Baghdad – As the battle for the city of Mosul draws to its end with the expulsion of ISIS, conflicting views have started to emerge on whether the militants should be pursued beyond Iraq’s borders, specifically inside Syria.
Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, Sunni political forces and Moqtada al-Sadr’s movement oppose chasing ISIS outside of Iraq. The premier has repeatedly expressed this stance even though he announced last week a plan, devised with the People’s Mobilization Forces (PMF), to protect the Iraqi-Syrian border.
This plan seeks to isolate the ISIS militants in Iraq from their colleagues in Syria.
Abadi later told a gathering of Sunni and Shi’ite clerics: “We do not want our forces and sons to take part in fighting beyond the borders. We do not want to destabilize the security of countries as our constitution prohibits this.”
The prime minister’s position stands in contrast to that of the PMF commanders.
Deputy head of the PMF Abou Mehdi al-Mohandis said over the weekend: “We will pursue terrorism, even if it was outside of Iraq, if it threatens Iraqi territories and national security.”
Some observers have spoken of the difficulty that Abadi may face in reining in fighters who want to keep on combating the terrorists even after they are eliminated from Iraq.
Security analyst Hisham al-Hashemi said that the PM has no choice but to deal with such individuals from a legal angle. He can bar the air force from backing them and warn them that they may be targeted by US strikes.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “There is a segment within the PMF that is allied with Iran and that wants to chase ISIS in Syria. It is seeking to create a passage from Baghdad to al-Tanf and leading to Damascus in order to provide the Syrian regime with supplies.”
He confirmed that some members of the PMF have already headed to Syria but without the government’s knowledge. They instead earn their salaries from Iran.
Another PMF leader, Laith al-Athari believed that all members of the forces, even if they want to fight ISIS abroad, should adhere to the orders of the commander of the armed forces.
He stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that any PMF involvement in the battle against ISIS in Syria should be coordinated with the Iraqi government and Damascus regime.
“Terrorism will be a threat as long as it remains on our border. We will head to Syria if we are asked. We have a common enemy and goal to destroy it, but liberating our land is a priority,” he stated.