Iraqi tribes demand dismantling of armed militias after rocket attacks on airport

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Iraq's government must dismantle armed militias and rein in heavy weaponry to stop attacks on diplomatic and military missions, the influential Arab Tribes Council in Iraq said on Monday.

It comes as three Katyusha rockets targeted the military terminal at Baghdad International Airport late on Sunday. The terminal, which is occasionally used by US troops, has come under several attacks this year, which are believed to have been carried out by Iran-backed militias.

No casualties were reported but several vehicles were damaged, the Iraqi military said.

"Militias are partly responsible for the chaos that Iraq is witnessing, especially the targeting of diplomatic and sovereign headquarters in Iraq," the secretary general of the Arab Tribes Council in Iraq, Sheikh Thaer Al Bayati, said in a statement.

Mr Al Bayati warned that weapons held by militias threaten the country's stability.

"The government must strip the militias of its weapons," he said.

The US accuses Iran-backed militias of carrying out attacks on its troops in the country.

Fighters of the Iran-backed Iraqi Kataib Hezbollah militia take part in a military parade in Baghdad to mark Al Quds Day on May 31, 2019. AFP

A raid by Iraq's counterterrorism forces targeted the powerful Kataib Hezbollah paramilitary. AFP

The ruins of the Kataib Hezbollah militia headquarters in Qaim, on the Iraqi side of the border with eastern Syria, after US air strikes on December 29, 2019. AP Photo

Destroyed headquarters of Kataib Hezbollah are seen after in an air strike in Qaim on December 30, 2019. Reuters

Kataib Hezbollah members set fire outside the US embassy inside the high security Green Zone area, in central Baghdad on January 1, 2020. EPA

Kataib Hezbollah members hold a picture of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani before his funeral procession in Baghdad on January 4, 2020. Reuters

Kataib Hezbollah members gather ahead of the funeral of the Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, who, along with Suleimani, was killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport on January 4, 2020. Reuters

An image provided by the US Department of Defence shows target sites to be hit in air strikes in Iraq on March 13, 2020. AP Photo

Washington deployed thousands of its forces in Iraq to support the army in the battle against ISIS in 2014, advising and training Iraqi troops.

For years Baghdad has faced many challenges to rein in armed militias and keep weapons under state control. But in recent years, pro-Iranian militias, also known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), have become more powerful despite the calls made by the government.

The PMF is an umbrella organisation of militias formed in 2014 to fight ISIS and has continued to grow, with tens of thousands of fighters operating under its banner today.

In late 2016, the Iraqi Parliament passed a law granting the PMF formal recognition as an autonomous branch of the Iraqi security forces. The law stipulates that the PMF must put its weapons under Iraqi state control and abandon politics.

That is yet to happen.

Activists and human rights groups accuse Iran-backed militias of targeting anti-government protesters with kidnapping, intimidation and violent attacks. They also assisted security forces in the heavy-handed clampdown on mass demonstrations that broke out in the capital and across the south last year. Over 550 people have been killed and thousands injured since the protests broke out in October 2019.

Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi launched a security operation to seize illegal weapons in Baghdad and Basra last week.

Security forces arrested 13 men after raiding several districts in the two cities, seizing dozens of light and medium weapons.

“The government and security forces will deal with those who attempt to threaten the security of citizens and we will not tolerate this,” military spokesman, Yehia Rasool, said in a statement.

Tension heightened between the US and Iran after an American drone strike killed Iranian military leader Qassem Suleimani in January near Baghdad International Airport.

It resulted in Iran-backed attacks on American troops stationed in Iraq. The threat of attacks led the US to pull troops out of several Iraqi bases.

Following the killing of Suleimani, Iraqi members of Parliament passed a non-binding resolution in January to remove foreign forces from the country.

Updated: September 7, 2020 04:36 PM

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