Iraqi Shia militias deploy to Syrian border to back guard forces

Iranian-backed Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militias, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), were deployed to the Iraqi border with Syria to support border guard troops who came under fire from within Syria in the past few days.
author_image Sangar Ali

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Iranian-backed Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militias, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), were deployed to the Iraqi border with Syria to support border guard troops who came under fire from within Syria in the past few days, a militia commander said on Friday.

There was no immediate comment on who opened fire from the Syrian territory, but forces fighting the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria believe the extremist group was responsible after losing its strongholds in the urban areas in early 2017.

“After several Iraqi border guard positions came under missile attacks, and backup from security forces was late, the PMF’s 13th brigade was deployed and targeted the origin of the launch,” PMF commander for west Anbar, Qassem Mesleh, said in a statement.

“Operations command and the infantry brigade are now present on the Iraqi-Syrian border in border guard positions to repel any attack or movement by the enemy,” Mesleh explained.

“This area is not within the PMF’s remit, but it is our duty to back up all security forces,” he added.

Both Kurds and Sunni Muslims have repeatedly called on Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to disarm the Shia group, accusing the PMF of widespread abuses against civilians in the country.

Brigadier General Yahya Rasool recently told Reuters the PMF deployment was temporary and “very normal” because it was the Shia militia’s duty to support government troops.

On Dec. 9, Iraqi forces liberated the last bits of land under IS control along the border with Syria, securing the western desert.

The victory marked the end of the war against the militant group, three years after they overran about a third of Iraq’s territory.

Rasool, a military spokesperson, denied that back up to the border guards had been late, noting that “the primary responsibility of border security belongs to the border guards and the army.”

He said Iraqi forces coordinate with the Syrian army, Iran, and Iranian-backed militias, as well as the US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany