Baghdad – (IraqiNews.com) With a quorum of 210 MPs, the Iraqi parliament voted Saturday in favor of a highly-divisive draft law that would see the volunteer al-Hashd al-Shaabi militias legalized as a national armed force.
The passing of the long-debated bill comes amid intense objections from mostly-Sunni groups within the parliament who boycotted the vote, according to Sky News Arabia, and who had also feared the law would enlarge the influence of the mostly-Shia militia 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, and its involvement in the liberation of areas inhabited by Sunnis has aroused international and local fears of sectarian twists.
The law counts al-Hashd al-Shaabi as part of the national armed forces and subject to its supreme commander. Its text says personnel affiliated with the force should be disconnected with any other political, social or partisan affiliations. It gives an exclusive mandate to the supreme commander of the armed forces to decide on the distribution and deployment of the force among provinces.
Habib al-Serafy, a representative from the Shia-led Iraqi National Alliance, said before the vote that the law became “a pressing necessity” as it stands as a form of “gratitude for the bloods of martyrs” who died in battles against the Islamic State. He told al-Journal news website that he was “astonished” by objections from Sunni blocs.
The Sunni-led Alliance of National Powers had warned that the law, in its current form, would deal a blow to ongoing efforts to reach a national settlement among various ethnic and political groups.
“The legal approach to the issue of al-Hashd al-Shaabi force “should not be exclusive to a certain group” and should “ensure that everybody is involved in the duty of defending the homeland in line with Article 9 of the constitution which provides for a balanced representation of the Iraqi population in the state’s military services away from politicization,” the alliance said in a statement on Saturday.