Leader of Iraqi Shia group urges formal border security role for Shia fighters

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Qais al-Khazali, leader of Iraq’s paramilitary group, the Asaib Ahl al-Haq
The head of a powerful Shia group in Iraq says Shia paramilitaries in the Arab country should have a formal role in securing the border with Syria and defend the Iraqi people against terror outfits, particularly the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group.

Qais al-Khazali, the leader the Asaib Ahl al-Haq group, which is part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), made the remarks in an interview with Reuters at his office in the Shia holy city of Najaf on Saturday, the transcripts of which published on Monday.

“Securing Iraq’s borders with Syria is among the most important duties of the Popular Mobilization Forces right now,” he said, urging Baghdad to provide a more formal, long-term border protection role for the voluntary forces.

The PMF, which are known in Arabic as Hashd al-Sha’abi, is a combination of some 40 groups of mostly Shia fighters as well as Sunnis and Christians, which was formed shortly after the Daesh emerged in Iraq in mid-2014. The forces played a significant role in aiding the army forces in defeating the terror group in the country.

Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, in turn, is part of the Fatah (Conquest) Alliance led by secretary general of Badr Organization Hadi al-Ameri, which finished second in the May 12 election with 47 out of 329 parliamentary seats.

The alliance is a political coalition in the Arab country formed to contest the 2018 general election. Its main components are groups involved in the state-sponsored PMF, which was formally declared as part of Iraq’s security forces earlier this year.

“The Daesh threat against Iraq won’t end as long as Syria is unstable. The PMF proved it is the military side most capable of dealing with Daesh … maybe the armed forces can invest the PMF in duties that include border security,” Khazali added.

He went on to say that paramilitary commanders should retain leadership positions and that “the government needs to provide bases and weapons depots.”

The Iraqi military, supported by the United States, is deployed along the frontier, but PMF leaders have already said they are taking the lead in securing it, including around the town of al-Qaim which borders Syria’s embattled eastern province of Dayr al-Zawr.

“The border was not secure before. Our operations have fixed that completely,” Reuters quoted an unnamed senior PMF commander as saying in October.

The PMF, estimated at 150,000 members, includes groups which fought against the US military after the 2003 invasion that toppled Iraq’s former dictator, Saddam Hussein.