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Iraq's Abadi inducts Iran-linked militias into security forces

The mostly Shia fighters have been accused of violations, but played major role in Iraq's fight against IS
PMU fighter in Tal Afar, west of Mosul, February 2017 (AFP/file photo)

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a decree on Thursday formalising the inclusion of Iran-linked paramilitary groups into the country's security forces.

According to the decree, members of the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), an assortment of militia groups, will be granted many of the same rights as members of the military.

Paramilitary members will be granted salaries equivalent to the military under the Ministry of Defence's control, the decree said. They will also be subject to the laws of military service and will gain access to military institutes and colleges.

The paramilitary forces, which include more than 40 militias of mostly Shia fighters, have been accused of war crimes and pushing a sectarian agenda.

They were formed in 2014 by a call from Iraq's top Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani after the Islamic State (IS) group overran Mosul and reached the outskirts of Baghdad.

The US-led coalition against IS did not provide aerial support for the PMU and pushed back against their participation in the battle for Mosul.

But the militias played a major role in recapturing various Iraqi towns and cities from IS militants. PMU fighters have also fought in Syria alongside government forces.

Thursday's decree had been expected for some time and comes two months ahead of a high-stakes general election. The PMU commands popular support among Iraq's majority Shia population and is expected to sway voters.

Iraq declared victory over the IS militants in December, but the militias, estimated to comprise more than 60,000 fighters, are still deployed in many of the predominantly Sunni areas that saw heavy fighting during the three-year war against IS.

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Iraq's parliament passed a law in 2016 to bring the PMU into the state apparatus, with the militias reporting directly to the prime minister, who is a Shia, under the country's governing system.

In October, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said it was time for the Iran-backed militias "to go home" as the fight against IS was winding down.

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