UN envoy draws criticism from Iraqis after meeting top militia commander
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – United Nations envoy to Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert drew criticism from Iraqis on Friday for meeting with a top commander for militia groups that participants in a national protest movement and human rights groups say have been behind much of the violence against largely-peaceful demonstrators over the past year.
Pictures of the gathering were posted on social media showing Plasschaert sitting to the right of Abdulaziz Mohammadawi—also referred to as Abu Fadak—who is the chief of staff of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a conglomeration of largely Iranian-backed militia groups.
The meeting came just a day after the one-year anniversary of widespread demonstrations against corruption and low living standards, among other issues. Members of the militias have been accused of being behind part of a deadly crackdown that has included targeted assassinations and protesters being killed by sniper fire. The militias, they allege, are responsible for a significant portion of over 600 deaths of Iraqis who have taken to the streets.
Apparently pushing back against public criticism, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq said in a tweet, “The impartiality and independence at the heart of the United Nations mandate mean that we engage with a wide variety of stakeholders in the pursuit of peace.”
“Our work in Iraq is no exception,” she added. “Dialogue is the only solution. Intimidation, violence are never the way forward.”
Some social media users circulated photoshopped images of Plasschaert that put half of her face next to that of Qasim Soleimani, a top Iranian general with close ties to the PMF who was killed in a US drone strike in early January. Another exchanged her outfit for an Iranian military uniform.
Soleimani was killed alongside Abu Fadak’s predecessor, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, just outside the Baghdad International Airport after repeated attacks by suspected militia groups affiliated to the PMF resulted in the death of an Iraqi-American civilian contractor.
In recent months, tensions have risen as rocket attacks and roadside bombings continue to target US forces and interests across central and southern Iraq. The escalation reached a new level on Wednesday when rockets struck outside Erbil International Airport, reportedly launched from areas controlled by PMF elements.
The last incident came after the US warned Iraqi officials twice on Sept. 22 and then again on Saturday that it was beginning to take preliminary steps to close the American embassy in Baghdad following the Iraqi government’s repeated failure to stop attacks by the pro-Iranian PMF militias that target US and Coalition targets.
Editing by John J. Catherine