Iraqi army will take Tel Afar, not Shia paramilitary groups: coalition official

Iraqi_T-72_tanks_and_an_M113_APC_from_the_Iraqi_Army_9th_Mechanized_Division_pass_through_a_highway_checkpoint_in_Mushahada_Iraq-e1474569648939.jpg

Iraqi army forces. File photo

ARA News

Erbil – Shiite-led Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) have been advancing towards the Turkmen-majority city of Tel Afar, reaching its periphery on Wednesday. However, the US-led coalition has said that the Shia militias will play no role in capturing the city.

“What we know about the Popular Mobilization Units is that they’ve moved out southwest of Tel Afar. They’re not in the city. They’re very close to it. And that move is intended to block any egress area for [the Islamic State],” said US Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the coalition.

Col Dorrian said that the PMU will to remain outside of the city limits, while the Iraqi Army dismantles the Islamic State’s (ISIS) positions inside Tel Afar. “The plan is for them to stay outside the city and that the Iraqi Army will indeed be the force that goes into Tel Afar. [The PMU will] remain in their blocking positions,” he stated.

The American colonel also told reporters that while the Iraqi Army has sufficient soldiers and materiel to take Tal Afar, the city wasn’t an immediate priority. “The Iraqis have adequate forces in order to take Tel Afar as well. They’ll do so on the timeline of their choosing. They’re going to continue operations in Mosul. We’re not going to put a timeline on Tel Afar,” he said.

“So that’s the Iraqi plan. That’s what’s been briefed to us and that’s what we’ve observed on the battlefield thus far,” Col Dorrian concluded.

Wednesday’s Tel Afar announcement is likely intended to placate Ankara, which is concerned about the expanding role of the Shiite-led PMU in northern Iraq. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Turkey would oppose any PMU presence Tel Afar or Sinjar.

Turkey’s pro-government media outlets have described Iraq’s Shia paramilitary groups as “terrorists.” The Turkish-language Yeni Safak newspaper reported that Ankara sees Tel Afar as a matter of “national security” and that the Turkish Army would intervene if the PMU or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party entered the town.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News 

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