UPDATED: Erdogan remarks on mobilization forces “flagrant intervention”: spokesman

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. File photo.

Baghdad ( Remarks by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which he labeled Iraqi paramilitary forces fighting the Islamic State as “terrorist” represent a “flagrant intervention” in Iraqi affairs, a spokesperson said Thursday.

Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesperson of al-Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Units), said the remarks are “a violation against an Iraqi security institution” that is “recognized by the parliament and the state”.

Speaking in an interview with Qatari network al-Jazeera late Wednesday, Erdogan said al-Hashd forces are a part of what he called Iran’s “Persian expansion policy”.

“Who are al-Hashd al-Shaabi? Who is backing them? The Iraqi parliament supports al-Hashd al-Shaabi, but, honestly, they are a terrorist organization, and should be known who stands behind it,” he said during the interview.

He added that PMUs, active in the Sanjar region, west of Mosul, are “acting against Tal Afar”, referring to an Islamic State stronghold town with a Turkmen majority, a community which Ankara has shown anxiousness to protect from ethnic bigotry.

Al-Hashd al-Shaabi was formed by a decree from Iraq’s top Shia clergy in 2014 to combat the Islamic State militants who took over many regions of Iraq.It won parliament recognition as a national armed force late 2016. The militia, an alliance of more than 60 groups, is currently engaged in fighting against ISIS on the side of the Iraqi government forces, and its expected involvement in the liberation of areas inhabited by Sunnis and Turkmen has aroused international and local fears of sectarian twists.

United Nations agencies have occasionally said PMUs were involved in human rights violations during their battles against IS.

The Iraqi government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi fervently defends al-Hashd against criticisms. Earlier in April, Abadi vowed to “cut the hands” of whoever defames al-Hashd al-Shaabi. “They volunteered to defend Iraq and its people based on a fatwa by the clergy,” he said during an event marking the passing of a senior Shia religious figure.

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