ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The Hashd al-Shaabi, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), will have a strong presence in the fight to retake the town of Tal Afar from the Islamic State (IS), a spokesperson said on Friday.
Ahmed al-Asadi, the spokesman for the PMF, declared the Iran-backed Shia military group would participate in the offensive to liberate Tal Afar which is located roughly 40 kilometers west of Mosul.
“The PMF will actively participate in the battle to liberate Tal Afar alongside the Iraqi armed and security forces under the directives of the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi army,” al-Asadi said in a statement.
The comments come after a high-ranking commander for a volunteer force under the Hashd al-Shaabi, Jawad al-Talibawi, on Thursday denounced the US and Turkey for their opposition to the inclusion of the group in the upcoming operation.
The US and Turkey, along with officials in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), have publicly opposed the involvement of the PMF in retaking the majority-Turkmen city. Tal Afar is one of the last remaining strategic strongholds of the jihadist group in Nineveh.
Talibawi claimed that some units within the Hashd al-Shaabi forces had received orders not to take part in the battle. However, al-Asadi stated those claims were untrue.
The Hashd al-Shaabi commander called on Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to stand by his words, and include the state-supported Shia military group in the Tal Afar liberation operation.
Abadi in July announced that a military plan would include the participation of the PMF in the offensive, a move that could irritate Turkey and Sunni leaders in Iraq.
The Iranian-backed Shia militia has already begun targeting militant positions in and around the city, and “will actively engage in the battle,” the Defense Ministry stated last week.
According to the Iraqi Defense Ministry, the Iraqi army and affiliated forces are combat-ready and awaiting the official launch of the operation to free the city.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant-General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Forces said the duration of the fight against the extremists in the city was “not a concern” for the troops.
The Lieutenant-General compared the layout of the area to the recent offensive in Mosul and said he expects the battle to be “easier.”
“The plan will focus on ensuring the safety of civilians as well as our troops ahead of the liberation,” Saadi explained.
Tal Afar has been under the control of IS since 2014. There is an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 militants remaining in the city.