Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ignited outrage in Iraq after branding Iraq’s volunteer forces as “terrorists”.
Speaking during an interview with Qatar state-funded Al-Jazeera TV late Wednesday, Erdogan claimed Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF- also known as al-Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic) 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.
In immediate reaction, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry has summoned the Turkish ambassador to Baghdad in protest at the remarks by Erdogan, branding Iraq’s volunteer forces as terrorists.
“The foreign ministry has decided to summon the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad to hand him a formal protest note regarding recent remarks by the Turkish president on the Hashed al-Shaabi,” ministry spokesperson Ahmad Jamal said in a statement on Thursday.
Earlier, Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesperson of the PMF said on Thursday that Erdogan’s remarks represent a “flagrant intervention” in Iraqi affairs. He added that the remarks are “a violation against an Iraqi security institution” that is “recognized by the parliament and the state”.
PMF, integral part of Iraqi Armed forces
PMF fighting unit was formed by a decree from Iraq’s top Shiite clergy in 2014 to combat ISIS terrorists who took over many regions of Iraq. It eventually secured Iraqi parliamentary recognition as a national armed force late 2016. A total of 208 members of the Council of Representatives voted in support of the legislation, which recognized PMF as part of the national armed forces and placed the volunteer fighters under the command of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi while granting them the right to receive salaries and pensions just like the regular army and police.
In April this year, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi fervently vowed to “cut the hands” of whoever defames PMF. “They volunteered to defend Iraq and its people based on a fatwa by the clergy,” he said.
PMF is reportedly consisted of more than 100,000 fighters. Iraqi authorities say there are between 25,000 and 30,000 Sunni tribal fighters within the force’s ranks in addition to Kurdish Izadi and Christian units. The PMF is currently engaged in fighting against ISIS terrorists on the side of the Iraqi government forces.
These fighters have played a major role in the liberation of ISIS-held areas to the south, northeast and north of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, ever since the terrorists launched an offensive in the country in June 2014.