Iraqi PM overrules move to pull Shia force from cities

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By Ibrahim Saleh and Ali Mohamed

BAGHDAD (AA) – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has reportedly overruled a decision by the Hashd al-Shaabi, a predominantly Shia contingent of the army, to withdraw its forces from Iraqi cities.

Last week, the Hashd al-Shaabi announced its decision to withdraw from urban centers throughout Iraq, especially those in Sunni-majority parts of the country.

However, according to an official government document seen by Anadolu Agency (dated Aug. 21), al-Abadi overruled the decision, warning that the Hashd al-Shaabi “should not be used for political purposes”.

Although Anadolu Agency could not verify the document’s authenticity, a government source — who preferred anonymity — has vouched for its reliability, attributing the initial decision to withdraw the Hashd al-Shaabi to “political motivations”.

Since Iraq’s May 12 parliamentary poll, two rival Shia political currents have competed to draw up a majority bloc in the assembly, which, according to Iraq’s constitution, would have the right to form the next government.

The first current includes the Sairoon Coalition (led by prominent Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr) and the Victory Bloc (led by PM al-Abadi).

The second includes the State of Law Coalition (led by Vice President Nouri al-Maliki) and the Fatah Alliance (led by Hadi al-Amiri), the latter of which also includes the Hashd al-Shaabi’s political wing.

According to the anonymous source, the Hashd al-Shaabi’s would-be withdrawal from Sunni areas — a longstanding demand of Sunni political groups — is aimed at securing the support of these Sunni groups for the second Shia current led by al-Maliki and al-Amiri.

Established in 2014 with the express purpose of fighting the Daesh terrorist group, the Hashd al-Shaabi was formally incorporated into the Iraqi army last year.

The Hashd al-Shaabi has been accused in the past of committing abuses against non-Shia residents of areas recently liberated from Daesh — allegations that the Hashd al-Shaabi denies.

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