Iraqi parliament on Nov. 26 voted to accord full legal status to government-sanctioned Shiite militias, the al-Hashd al-Shaabi or Popular Mobilization, as a “back-up and reserve” force for the military and police and empower them to “deter” security and terror threats facing the country, like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The legislation, supported by 208 of the chamber’s 327 members, was promptly rejected by Sunni Arab politicians and lawmakers who said it was evidence of what they called the “dictatorship” of the country’s Shiite majority.
“The majority does not have the right to determine the fate of everyone else,” Osama al-Nujaifi, one of Iraq’s three vice presidents and a senior Sunni politician, told a news conference after the vote, according to the Associated Press. “There should be genuine political inclusion. This law must be revised.”
The Nov. 26 vote came despite a call by the Iraqi cabinet for withdrawing the bill for further study.
Al-Hashd al-Shaabi has been controversial, since the Shia militia has been accused in the past of committing rights violations against Sunni-Muslim populations in areas taken from ISIL, including Iraq’s western city of Fallujah, according to international human rights groups and the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner.
Iraqi forces started an offensive on Oct. 17 to capture Mosul, ISIL’s last major city stronghold in Iraq, with air and ground support from a U.S.-led coalition. Kurdish and Popular Mobilisation forces are supporting the offensive.
The law, tabled by the chamber’s largest Shiite bloc, placed the militias under the command of Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and gave militiamen salaries and pensions that mirror those of the military and the police.
Senior Shiite politician Amar al-Hakim sought to reassure the Sunni lawmakers, saying a host of laws to be issued by the prime minister to regulate the work of the militias would allay their fears.
“The law creates a suitable climate for national unity,” he said.
In a statement, al-Abadi welcomed the legislation and said the “Popular Mobilization” forces, the formal name of the militias, would cover all Iraqi sects, a thinly veiled reference to the much smaller and weaker Sunni tribal forces along with armed groups from smaller minorities.
“We must show gratitude for the sacrifices offered by those heroic fighters, young and elderly. It is the least we can offer them,” said the statement.
“The Popular Mobilization will represent and defend all Iraqis wherever they are.”
The Shiite militias alone number more than 100,000 fighters.
Two mass graves of Iraq’s Yazidi minority found near Mosul
Two mass graves of at least 18 members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, thousands of whom have been killed and kidnapped by ISIL, have been discovered as security forces fight to dislodge the militants from Mosul, a local official said, according to Reuters.
Kurdish peshmerga forces found the grave near the Shababit junction in northwestern Iraq while scouting the area. It contained bones and identity cards that appeared to have been covered over with sandy earth by a bulldozer.
ISIL systematically killed, captured and enslaved thousands of Yazidis in the summer of 2014 as they overran the Sinjar area, where many of them lived. United Nations investigators have said that constitutes genocide.
The mayor of Sinjar, Mahma Xelil, said the latest discovery brought the number of Yazidi mass graves found so far to 29, estimating the total would rise to more than 40 as the militants are driven back further.