ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) – Iraqi Shia militia Hashd al-Shaabi aims to widen its influence in Kirkuk Province and asked Turkmen to support them in the area.
On Saturday, Hashd al-Shaabi met Kirkuk Turkmen officials and asked for backing to increase the militia’s influence and activities in the province.
“We, Hashd al-Shaabi, as a military force need political and social support in Kirkuk. Turkmen have promised that they will assist us,” Yilmaz Muhandis, a Shia Turkmen leader in Hashd al-Shaabi, told Kurdistan24.
Hashd al-Shaabi — one of the largest Shia militias in Iraq — was created by top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani after the collapse of the Iraqi army in June 2014.
The Iraqi Federal Government largely supports the militia, which has primarily conducted military operations against the Islamic State (IS) in several provinces across the country.
Ali Mahdi, a Turkmen member of Kirkuk Provincial Council (KPC), reiterated support for the militia and called for further expansion of Hashd al-Shaabi in the province.
“We are not only supporting them [Hashd al-Shaabi] to stay in Kirkuk, but also to expand Turkmen Hashd al-Shaabi in the province,” Mahdi told Kurdistan24.
He explained the reason for his support towards the militia and stated, “The current situation in Iraq shows that any ethnic or religious group that does not have an armed force will be diminished and melted away in the country.”
In the meeting, the Turkmen emphasized that they are against the Kurdish independence referendum that is planned to take place by the end of 2016 in Kirkuk.
“According to the constitution, Kirkuk is not part of the Kurdistan Region, and should not be included in the referendum,” said Hassan Toran, a Turkmen member of the Iraqi parliament.
He explained to Kurdistan24 that according to international law, a referendum needs the approval of the federal government of a country. “We hope this topic will be discussed and decided in the federal parliament of Iraq,” Toran said.
Despite several obstacles, the Kurdistan Region still aims to hold an independence referendum. Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials agree that Kurds have the right to decide on whether to remain as part of Iraq or become an independent country.
Reporting by Hemin Dalo and Mewan Dolamari
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany