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Rising Tensions Sweep Across Iraqi-Syrian Borders

Rising Tensions Sweep Across Iraqi-Syrian Borders

Saturday, 19 January, 2019 - 09:00
Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) fighters ride in a tank near the Iraqi-Syrian border in al-Qaim, Iraq. Iraq November 26, 2018. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani
Baghdad- Hamza Mustafa
Shiite clerics have openly urged the Iraqi government to establish a mechanism to regulate paramilitary weapons operated by government-approved militant groups in Iraq.

Mohammad Mahdi al-Khalissi, a senior cleric in Iraq, said in a Friday sermon that “arms remain a force exclusive to state authorities in order to maintain national unity and curb the outbreak of violence.”

“We reject the presence of foreign troops in the country as it will significantly affect the unity of Iraqis,” Khalissi said, adding that foreign forces are “working to sabotage and destroy the political and economic future of the country.”

“Our position remains unchanged on ridding Iraq of such forces,” he added.

The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), otherwise known as Al-Hashd Al-Sha'abi, is an Iraqi state-sponsored umbrella organization composed of some 40 militias that run independent operations and command centers, and is regularly armed and funded by Iran.

The Iraqi parliament has voiced serious concerns over the buildup of tensions near Iraqi-Syrian borders where American forces are looking to revamp bases in western provinces overlooking Syria, a move strongly opposed by the Iran-backed PMF which in turn refused to retreat from near border territory it runs.

Mansur Al Baiji, a spokesman for the PMF and other similar factions, said that the Iraqi parliament is looking to draft a bill on removing “foreign forces from Iraq”.

“The draft law on the removal of foreign troops from Iraqi territory is witnessing its final touches and will be submitted for revision and legislation as soon as possible”.

“Most Iraqi political parties will vote on this very piece of legislation which embodies Iraqi sovereignty, and there is a unanimous consensus for passing it without delay,” Baiji added while pointing out that the bill would ensure the clipping of all presence of foreign forces on Iraqi territory and the evacuation of present military bases, even those hosted by the Iraqi Kurdistan region.

Responding to a question about growing PMF-American tensions on the Iraqi-Syrian border, Abdullah al-Kharbit, a member of the parliament of the western province of Anbar, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Sunni Arabs see this as a new problem that Iraq can do without, not wishing Iraq to be dragged into the tragedy in Syria.

“The American-Iranian conflict will not be settled militarily on the long-term,” he said, stressing that Iraq shouldn’t place itself as a pawn in that light.

As for the work on the legislation of a law to remove foreign forces from the country, Kharbit doubted statements claiming that Iraq is “united” in its position towards American presence, and cited the likelihood of Iraqi Kurdistan avoiding the implementation of such a bill on its territory.

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