Erdogan calls Shia paramilitary groups ‘terrorists’, threatening Turkish intervention in Iraq

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A Kurdish Peshmerga soldier (R) stands next to a member of the Iraqi PMU at a security checkpoint in Tuz Khurmatu in northern Iraq. Photo: Pierre-yves Baillet /ARA News

ARA News

The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan labeled the paramilitary forces fighting the Islamic State in Iraq as “terrorists” and part of Iran’s “Persian expansion policy”.

“Who are al-Hashd al-Shaabi? Who is backing them? The Iraqi parliament supports al-Hashd al-Shaabi, but, honestly, they are a terrorist organization, and should be known who stands behind it,” he said during an interview with the Qatari channel Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesperson of the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), also known as al-Hashd al-Shaabi, called Erdogan’s remarks as “a violation against an Iraqi security institution” that is “recognized by the parliament and the state”.

Hadi Al-Ameri, the former Iraqi minister of transportation and the head of the PMU Badr Organization, one of the biggest PMU forces in Iraq, in response called for a complete stop of trade with Turkey.

On Saturday, the Turkish Ambassador to Iraq, Fatih Yıldız, joined a memorial march on the anniversary of Imam Kazim’s death in Baghdad in order to control the damage.

“It’s unfortunate to learn that some regional leaders are still ill-informed by biased or incompetent advices on what’s happening in their neighbourhood,” Luay al-Khatteeb, the founding director of the Iraq Energy Institute, co-founder of Iraq Heritage and nonresident Fellow at the Center on Global Energy Policy told ARA News.

“The PMUs like many armed units of the Iraqi Armed Forces are governed by the federal authority and regulated by federal laws,” al-Khateeb said.

“Although a de-facto Shia majority, but diverse and inclusive enough to depict the social fabric of Iraq, with tens of thousands of Sunni Arabs, Christians and other factions amongst their ranks,” he said.

“Surely there could be a reciprocal exchange in words between some PMU affiliates and Turkey’s leader, but what matters is the official response of the Iraqi government given the fact that the PMU is an official institution in the first place committed from day one to defend Iraqis, while many of its volunteers have fought and died for a noble cause without even earning their monthly salary, hence they deserve all the respect and recognition,” he added.

In an interview with ARA News, Nicholas A. Heras, Bacevich Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), said that Turkey is strongly against a PMU presence in northern Iraq.

“Erdogan has made it no secret that he is seeking to establish strong Turkish influence over Mosul and throughout northwestern areas of Iraq. The Hashd Shaabi, which has a significant number of Iraqi Shia nationalist paramilitary groups and armed groups closely aligned with Iran, want to resist a Turkish zone of influence on any piece of Iraqi territory,” he said.

“Erdogan views the Hashd Shaabi as the main obstacle to Turkey’s unfettered influence over northwestern Iraq, which many Turkish nationalists like Erdogan himself believe to be rightfully part of Turkey,” Heras told ARA News.

“The Hashd Shaabi armed groups will not hesitate to target Turkish-backed, Sunni Iraqi proxies in Iraq, or Turkish military units that are deployed inside of Iraq,” he added.

Furthermore, Diliman Abdulkader, a NRT English columnist and research associate at the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) told ARA News that the PMU could respond by providing more support to the Yezidi fighters of the Shingal Resistance Units (YBS) they funded with salaries in the past until Turkish pressure on the US and Baghdad stopped the funding last year.

“I think that the PMU will not respond by words but by action, meaning they will openly support the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] in Shingal and will also put pressure on the KDP [Kurdistan Democratic Party] to move the Turkish military out of Iraq. Also Erdogan has a history of intervening in other countries’ affairs, most recently in Kirkuk,” he said.

However, Abdulkader ruled out that the PMU would target Turkey-backed proxy forces or the Turkish army in Iraq.

“Direct target is unlikely since PMU is technically the Iraqi gov’ts responsibility but indirectly through other factions yes. In a way, showing greater support for PKK in Iraq is viewed as a direct target. As far as trade ties are concerned, I don’t think Iraq can afford to take that risk,” he told ARA News.

“Also it’s important to note that Erdogan may be using this war of words to distract from the referendum at home,” he concluded.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News

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