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Iraqi government must control volunteer militias: deputy PM
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Men mourn during the funeral of prominent Iraqi Sunni tribal leader Sheikh Qassem Al-Janabi and his son, Mohammad, who were killed in an attack on their convoy in Baghdad, on February 14, 2015. (Reuters/Khalid Al-Mousily)

Men mourn during the funeral of prominent Iraqi Sunni tribal leader Sheikh Qassem Al-Janabi and his son, Mohammad, who were killed in an attack on their convoy in Baghdad, on February 14, 2015. (Reuters/Khalid Al-Mousily)

Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Iraqi government must do more to rein in the actions of volunteer militias throughout the country, Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Al-Mutlaq told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday, following the abduction and killing of a prominent Sunni tribal chief on Friday evening.

“There have to be restraints placed upon these militias and gangs that target the lives of Iraqis, and I call for the perpetrators [of the incident] to be apprehended and for the launch of an immediate investigation,” Mutlaq said.

Sheikh Qassim Al-Janabi, the head of the prominent Sunni Janabi tribe, his son Mohamed, nephew Zaid, and 10 bodyguards were all abducted in the Al-Dawra area in southern Baghdad on Friday evening by unknown assailants, after their convoy was stopped at what security officials now believe was a fake checkpoint.

Sheikh Qassim, his son, and seven of the bodyguards were later killed, but Zaid Al-Janabi—who is an MP for the Iraqi National Dialogue Front in the Iraqi parliament—and three other bodyguards were set free.

In a parliamentary session on Saturday, MP and Janabi tribe member Adnan Al-Janabi said the men were taken to Sadr City, a Shi’ite-dominated area of Baghdad, shortly after their abduction, though this remains unconfirmed.

The identity of the assailants, the reasons for the abduction, and the details of the release of Janabi and the three other bodyguards remain unknown.

In response to the attack, two Sunni-dominated political blocs in the Iraqi parliament, the Iraqiyya Alliance and the Wataniya bloc, announced that they would refuse to take part in parliamentary sessions from Saturday onward.

The two groups taking part in the boycott, which have a large number of Sunni members, have over 70 MPs between them.

The incident follows other recent abductions of prominent MPs and killings targeting Sunni tribal figures, which have been attributed to Shi’ite volunteer militias drafted in by the government to help in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

It also comes at a time when prominent Iraq politicians, both Sunni and Shi’ite, have launched a number of “national unity and reconciliation” initiatives in attempts to ease sectarian tensions in the country.

They include Iraqi Vice President Iyad Allawi, who in a statement on Saturday joined the chorus of Sunni politicians across the country demanding an immediate investigation into the abduction and killings.

The Iraqi Forces Alliance, the largest Sunni bloc in the Iraqi parliament, also weighed in on the incident, saying it was among many which currently threatened the government’s efforts against ISIS.

Ibrahim Al-Mutlaq, the deputy secretary general of the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “a security vacuum and a state of chaos” currently held in Baghdad and other governorates throughout Iraq, where armed volunteer groups were running amok.

The Iraqi government, which is desperately trying to wrest back areas of the country captured by ISIS, has been criticized in recent months for not doing enough to control the actions of Shi’ite volunteer militias.

Several of these volunteer groups have been accused of carrying out atrocities on Sunni Iraqis, including mass killings and the torching of homes.

In the latest of these incidents, around 70 Sunni men were killed in a village in Diyala province earlier this month after government troops and Shi’ite militias had entered the village days before as part of an offensive to rid the area of fighters belonging to ISIS.

Many Shi’ite politicians in the country have blamed ISIS for the killings, but several Sunni politicians held the volunteer Shi’ite militias responsible.