US coalition refuses to back Shia militias near Kirkuk, praises Peshmerga role in anti-ISIS campaign

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Iraqi Shiite men hold up their weapons during a training session in the shrine city of Karbala, in central Iraq, on June 25, 2014 after they volunteered to protect the Shiite holy sites in central and south Iraq in case of an attack by Sunni militants led by the Islamic State. (AFP)

ARA News 

QAMISHLO – There are increasing tensions between Baghdad and Washington over the role of Shia militias, US analysts suggest. In the last operation for the Shia Turkmen village of al-Bashir in the beginning of May, the US only supported Peshmerga forces.

“The Peshmerga with the assistance of coalition airstrikes seized Bashir from ISIL [ISIS] in an operation that lasted less than 24 hours. Bashir was an important support zone for this enemy,” said Colonel Steve Warren, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman.

The statement of US coalition official angered local Turkmen Shia Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) that have failed over nearly two years to take the village of Bashir without Peshmerga support, and claimed that the PMU played the main role in the operation.

The local Turkmen PMU units failed to advance in Bashir, lacking US coalition support.

However, Col. Christopher Garver, CJTF-OIR Public Affairs Officer, in an exclusive statement to ARA News, said the Kurds played the main role in liberating al-Bashir from ISIS, although the PMU assisted.

“The Peshmerga, with the assistance of coalition airstrikes, liberated Bashir. Popular Mobilization forces were in the region in a supporting role, but the Peshmerga conducted the operation,” the top coalition’s official told ARA News. 

US analysts suggest there are tensions between the U.S. and Baghdad over the role of the PMU units, also known as Hashd Sha’abi in Arabic.

Speaking to ARA News, Nicholas Heras, a Washington-based Middle East researcher at the Centre for a New American Security, said there are growing concerns in Washington over the PMU.

“There is very real and growing tension between the U.S. and Baghdad on the proper role of the Hashd Sha’abi,” Heras said. 

“The U.S. is being bluntly told by Iraqi Sunnis who are willing to work with the anti-ISIS Coalition that the involvement of the Hashd Sha’abi in seizing ISIS areas is a non-starter. The United States’ Iraqi Sunni partners will not back any effort that involves the Hashd Sha’abi, even in a token role,” he added.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg 

Source: ARA News 

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