Iraqi volunteer force ready to return weapons to army after Daesh battle
An Iraqi volunteer military force, which heeded a government call to arms in 2014 to join the fight against Daesh, says it respects the decisions of the national army, hinting that it will act on an order to hand heavy arms back when the counter-terrorism battles end.
“The heavy weapons belong to the Iraqi government, not us. We are not rebels or agents of chaos and we do not want to be a state within a state,” the spokesman for Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, Hashim al-Mousawi, said at a Thursday news conference.
Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, which has about 10,000 fighters, is a branch of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (Hashd al-Sha’abi).
Hashd al-Sha’abi is an Iraqi state-sponsored umbrella organization composed of some 40 groups, which are mainly Shia Muslims. The force reportedly numbers more than 100,000 fighters. Iraqi authorities say there are between 25,000 and 30,000 Sunni tribal fighters within its ranks in addition to Kurdish Izadi and Christian units.
The volunteer force was formed in 2014, when the Daesh terror group managed to make sweeping territorial gains in Iraq’s western and northern parts, helping the government forces regain their strength and speed up their counter-offensives.
The volunteer fighters have been on the forefront of the fight against Daesh and played a major role in the liberation of militant-held areas to the south, northeast and north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.
“[Al-Hashd al-Shaabi] is under the command of the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and naturally when the war is over and victory is declared, the final decision will be his,” Mousawi said.
The comments came after Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool announced that tanks, armored vehicles, and machine guns should be returned to the army after the ongoing battles end.
Hashd al-Sha’abi fighters are paid by the Iraqi government and officially report to the prime minister, who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
On Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Daesh has been defeated from a military perspective but Baghdad will only declare final victory after the militants are purged from the desert areas.
Harakat al-Nujaba has strongly condemned Washington’s plans to designate the groups as a terrorist organization.
Earlier this month, US Republican lawmaker Ted Poe proposed a bill to the House of Representatives that would place Nujaba on a list of terrorist groups over accusations of having links to Iran and give President Donald Trump 90 days to impose sanctions on it once the bills is passed.
The bill has sparked widespread condemnation in Baghdad, with Prime Minister Abadi saying he would not allow anyone who fought Daesh to be treated as criminals.
“Accusing us of terrorism is not new or surprising. It is not a coincidence, and does not shock us, because we have never been part of the American bloc or project,” Mousawi pointed out.
He noted that his group receives support in the form of “advice” from Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.
Iran has been providing advisory military assistance to the central government in Baghdad and the regional government in the Iraqi Kurdistan, helping them both maintain ground and win back territory lost to Daesh.