Iraq hits back at Saudi FM over al-Hashd al-Shaabi sectarianism remarks

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir

Baghdad ( Iraq’s foreign ministry fired back on Tuesday at criticisms of Shia-led al-Hashd al-Shaabi militias by Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir who said Iraq cannot realize unity in the existence of the Iran-backed militia.

“Recurrent abusive remarks and accusations by the Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir of the heroes and sacrifices of al-Hashd al-Shaabi reflect that Saudis maintain their tense approach on Iraq, which is made on narrow, sectarian backgrounds,” said ministry spokesperson Ahmed Gamal in a statement.

Gamal said that approach caused Saudi Arabia “many opportunities for positive and constructive communication with regional states”, adding that Saudi policies made the kingdom one reason behind continued tensions and crises in Yemen and Syria, “which we will not allow in Iraq”.

Gamal maintained that al-Hashd al-Shaabi remains “a national, courageous combat force that operates within the limits of the law enacted by the parliament, and is one of the official security formations of the state”.
In a press conference with his Jordanian counterpart on Monday, Jubeir described al-Hashd al-Shaabi as a “sectarian organization that commits massacres in Iraq, backed by Iranian officers led by Qassem Suleimani,” referring to the head of Iran’s elite military force, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s al-Quds Corps. “There should be no place for al-Hashd al-Shaabi if we want a united Iraq,” Jubeir stated.
Earlier this month, Iraqi President Fuad Masum approved a law passed by parliament in November that turned al-Hashd al-Shaabi from a paramilitary to national force.The passing of the long-debated bill came amid intense objections from Sunni groups within the parliament who feared the law would grant the militia unchecked powers, and therefore stoke sectarian tensions.

Al-Hashd al-Shaabi was formed by a decree from Iraq’s top Shia clergy to combat the Islamic State militants who took over many regions of Iraq in 2014. The militia is currently engaged in fighting against ISIS on the side of the Iraqi government forces, but its involvement in the liberation of areas inhabited by Sunnis has aroused international fears especially among Sunni powers such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, as well as from the United Nations.

But in an interview published on Monday, The Daily Beast quoted Stephen Townsend, commander of the US-led coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, as describing Shia militia’s fighting the group as “remarkably disciplined”.

“Their internal and external comms are to keep disciplined and follow the orders of the government,” he said. “They’re saying that and that’s what we’re seeing.”

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