Iran-linked militia ignores Iraq army demand for checkpoint handover
Dozens of members of a Iran-linked militia refused to hand over its positions in the Nineveh region to the Iraq army on Monday, pushing back against a government order.
Demonstrators blocked the main road connecting the city of Mosul to Erbil, protesting the removal of a Hashd al-Shaabi unit.
Iraq's Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation Forces, is a collection of mostly Shia militias that fought the Islamic State group and were incorporated into the Iraqi armed forces in 2016.
Iraq's government moved in July to control the powerful militias, placing them under the full command of the Iraqi armed forces.
In a decree, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said offices of militias that continue to operate independently within or outside Iraqi cities will be closed and any armed faction working "openly or secretly" against the new guidelines will be considered illegitimate.
But the government decree could be difficult to implement. Iraqi security sources in Mosul told The New Arab's sister Arabic-language publication that many of the protesters were simply members of Waad Qado's "30th Bridgade" militia in civilian clothes.
Qado, a member of the Shabak minority, was sanctioned over "serious human rights abuse" by the US.
According to the security sources, members of the Shabak minority threw stones at soldiers and used tyres to block roads.
The militias that fall under PMF together number more than 140,000 fighters, and while they fall under the authority of Iraq's prime minister, the militias' top brass are mostly aligned with Iran.
The Hashd units deployed near Mosul are made of fighters from Shabak, Turkmen, Christians, and other minorities.
Shabaks, who number around 60,000 in Iraq, have their own language and say they first settled in the Arab country several centuries ago from northern Iran.
Their places of worship - such as those of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities - were targeted by the IS after their 2014 takeover of northern Iraq, and many fled their homes during the three years of occupation by the group.
Some of the mainly Shia Iran-backed militias rose to prominence after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, when they fought US occupation.
In more recent years, the militias fought alongside US-backed Iraqi troops against IS militants, gaining outsized influence and power along the way.
As tensions soared between the US and Iran in recent weeks, Baghdad has found itself caught in the middle between two allies.
Iraq hosts more than 5,000 US troops, but it is also home to the powerful Iranian-backed militias, some of whom want the US to leave and are believed to attacked American interests.
The crisis gripping the Middle East stems from President Donald Trump's withdrawal of the US a year ago from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and then imposing crippling new sanctions on Tehran.
Agencies contributed to this report.
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