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Popular Mobilisation 'coordinating with Assad' ahead of Mosul battle

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (R), top commander of the Popular Mobilisation units [AFP]

Date of publication: 25 February, 2016

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The Iran-backed and government-sponsored Popular Mobilisation militias are closely coordinating with the Syrian army, a top commander admitted Wednesday, as Iraqi PM suggested militias will have role in Mosul liberation.
The Iraqi Shia-dominated Popular Mobilisation units are coordinating closely with the Syrian regime army, a senior militia commander said on Wednesday.

The units are "collaborating and exchanging information with the Syrian army," said Popular Mobilisation commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis on Wednesday upon returning from Iran.

"The cooperation will become closer and more direct when our operations get close to the Iraqi-Syrian border," he added.

This is the first time a Popular Mobilisation leader has admitted openly to having ties to the Assad regime.

Recently, reports emerged of commanders from the umbrella group visiting Damascus to coordinate military operations against the Islamic State.

Meanwhile, the Popular Mobilisation are preparing for a major battle, the senior commander added, in a possible reference to preparations for the liberation of IS-held Mosul.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had earlier suggested the militias could take part in the liberation of Mosul, prompting wide-spread condemnation from Sunni and Kurdish parties.

Abadi's remarks were made at the Iraqi parliament.

There have been threats by tribal Sunni Arab forces in Mosul to withdraw from efforts to liberate the city if the Popular Mobilisation participates in the battle.

Kurdish forces are also unlikely to allow the militia to cross into Mosul through Iraqi Kurdistsan, according to sources in Erbil.

On Wednesday, a statement by the Sunni-dominated Alliance of Iraqi Forces expressed categorical rejection of any role by the Popular Mobilisation in Mosul, warning the inclusion of a "sectarian militia would boost IS propaganda."

The Popular Mobilisation militias were created by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to combat IS after the Iraqi military collapsed during the summer of 2014, allowing Mosul and vast swaths of Iraq to fall into the hands of the jihadis.

The militias have been accused of war crimes and ethnic cleansing in Sunni-majority areas recaptured from IS.

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