Iraq's Shiite Popular Mobilization militia, accused of atrocities against Sunni compatriots, shrugs off its exclusion from the country's latest fight against jihadists.
Cairo (dpa)- Iraq’s powerful Shiite militia, the Popular Mobilization, Thursday downplayed its exclusion from a US-backed fight that dislodged Islamic State from the terrorist group’s western stronghold of Ramadi earlier this week.
The Popular Mobilization played a key role in retaking the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit from Islamic State in April.
At the time, the militia was accused of abuses against local Sunnis in Tikrit.
The militia’s fighters were not allowed to participate in a major offensive, mounted earlier this month by government troops backed by US-led airstrikes, to regain the Sunni city of Ramadi for fear of stoking sectarian unrest, local media reported.
“Ramadi was not a separate battle from the fight for liberating the entire Anbar province,” spokesman for the militia, Ahmad al-Assadi, told dpa by phone.
Ramadi is the capital of the mostly Sunni Anbar province, which stretches from the outskirts of Baghdad to the Syrian and Jordanian borders.
On Monday, the Iraqi army declared Ramadi "liberated" seven months after it fall to Islamic State.
“The prelude to Ramadi’s liberation took nearly six months during which the Mobilization liberated several areas outside Ramadi and besieged the city from several directions,” al-Assadi said.
“The Iraqi government prevented the Mobilization from joining the Ramadi fight under pressure from the United States,” he said without elaborating.
Islamic State remains in control of much of Sunni Arab northern and western Iraq, including Mosul, the country’s second-largest city.
Al-Assadi dismissed as untrue reports that the Iraqi government will also exclude his group from taking part in an imminent fight to recapture Mosul.
“Such reports just aim at splitting up the Iraqi security forces and weakening their morale," he said.
"We believe that the country's leadership will work to engage every force in the battle for Mosul according to realities on the ground."
Since taking office last year, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, a Shiite, has sought to drum up the backing of Iraq's Sunni community in the fight to drive Islamic State out of the country.