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The New Arab Staff

Iraq training US-sanctioned militia leader for top army role: report

Aziz heads the security branch of the Popular Mobilisation Forces paramilitary umbrella group [Twitter]

Date of publication: 27 November, 2020

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Government officials view the reported appointment to the military of a militia security chief as a move to weaken Iran-backed groups.
The Iraqi military is training a leading member of an Iran-backed militia to take up a top army post, government, security, and militia officials have told Reuters.

Hussein Falih Aziz, also known as Abu Zainab al-Lami, is currently under United States sanctions over his alleged role in the killing of anti-government protesters.

Lami is a leading member of the Kata'ib Hezbollah militia and head of security for the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an umbrella network of militias, many of them linked to Tehran.

The PMF network is sponsored and approved by the Iraqi state but its component militias operate outside government authority and some have been involved in sectarian violence and atrocities.

He has been sent to Egypt for a year-long military training programme with Iraqi army officers.

The programme is normally reserved for personnel from the official military personnel.

Reuters said that six government, militia and security officials had confirmed this information.

The officials view the appointment as a method of diluting the influence of Iran-backed militias in Iraq.

Supporters of the plan, which was reportedly hatched by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, say it will help weaken and divide the PMF militias.

A government spokesperson declined to comment on the news but said that there was a plan to restructure the PMF militia network, including by providing military training to leading members.

Critics of the plan view it as a concession to Iran-linked factions of the Iraqi government.

They also point to Lami's record of alleged human rights abuses.

As security chief for the PMF, Lami has been implicated in the killings of hundreds of anti-government protesters and the alleged torture and mass killings of prisoners accused of links to the Islamic State group.

Sheikh Ali al-Asadi, a leading figure in the Iran-linked Nujaba militia, told Reuters the military appointment was a sign of the PMF's strength and not something that could weaken the paramilitary network.

"This is proof of the PMF's success - someone being taken from the PMF to work in the army shows how strong it's become," he said.

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