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Volunteer forces must be under Iraqi government control: Ayatollah Sistani

Iraq’s most senior Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani says the volunteer forces, who helped the army eradicate Daesh terrorists from the homeland, should be “incorporated” into state bodies.

In a message delivered at the Friday sermon in the holy city of Kerbala through one of his representatives, Ayatollah Sistani said all weapons used during the battles against Daesh should be brought under the control of the Iraqi government.

In 2014, the Daesh terror group managed to make sweeping territorial gains in Iraq’s western and northern parts. Shortly afterwards, Ayatollah Sistani issued a fatwa, calling on all Iraqi citizens to defend their country in the face of terrorists.

The fatwa helped Shia fighters, Sunni tribesmen as well as Christian and Yezidi volunteers gather under one umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), commonly known as Hashd al-Sha’abi, to reverse Daesh’s gains.

Fighters of Hashd al-Sha’abi gather around the Tal Afar airport, west of Mosul, as they and Iraqi forces advance against Daesh on August 27, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

In the early days of Daesh emergence, Iraqi government forces, overwhelmed by the terror group’s lightning advances, suffered heavy blows on the battle ground.

However, Hashd al-Sha’abi fighters helped the army regain strength and reverse Daesh’s gains.

The Iraqis finally managed to retake all the lost territory last month with the help of volunteer forces and Iranian military advisors.

The Iraqi parliament last year recognized Hashd al-Sha’abi as an official force with similar rights as those of the regular army.

The secretary general of Badr Organization, Iraq’s biggest Shia Muslim paramilitary group, has recently told his fighters to take orders from the national military and sever their relations with the group’s political wing, which holds 22 seats in the Iraqi parliament.

The senior PMU commander also called on its fighters to “clear cities of all signs of militarization.”

On November 24, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, a PMU branch which has about 10,000 fighters, said it respects the decisions of the national army, hinting that it will act on an order to hand heavy arms back when the counter-terrorism battles end.

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