Coalition backs Iraq’s Shia forces in Tal Afar operation, won’t allow them in Mosul

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Iraqi pro-government Shia fighters of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) seen during clashes with ISIS near Fallujah. File photo: AFP

ARA News

Erbil – Iraq’s predominantly Shia militia, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), launched on Saturday an operation with the goal of taking Tal Afar, a majority Turkmen town. The US-led coalition said that they would back the PMU as long as they stayed away from Mosul city.

“We have seen the open source reports. We are supportive of the plan that the government of Iraq has come up with. That includes the PMU forces moving into these areas and not into the city of Mosul,” Colonel Joseph Scrocca, the coalition’s Director of Public Affairs, told ARA News.

“However, the coalition only supports forces that are under the command and control of the Iraqi government,” the director added.

The PMU are already moving from southern Mosul towards Tal Afar. Some Iraqi commentators fear that the Shia fighters will take revenge on Tal Afar’s Sunni Turkmen population. Local Sunnis expelled their Shiite neighbors in 2014, when the Islamic State (ISIS) conquered the town. They also have a history of supporting jihadist groups.

While Tal Afar used to be demographically mixed most of its former Shia Turkmen are currently displaced, eking out their lives in southern Iraq.

Michael Stephens, head of the Royal United Services Institute – Qatar, told ARA News that the Tal Afar operation was in all likelihood coordinated with the coalition.

“Reports suggest there has been too little air support to the PMU-led Tal Afar operation, […] as I understand it, that has now been worked out,” Stephens said. “No else wanted to go there. It was a real problem, and ultimately Tal Afar must be taken and if the PMU do it, it serves two things. One, it keeps them away from Mosul, and two it deals with a real heartland of ISIS support.”

“Furthermore, it resolves the issue of Turkey clashing with other factions in the area,” he concluded. “As far as I understand, the US-led coalition are supportive.”

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News 

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