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PMF Spread Fear among Fallujah’s Displaced | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Iraqi Shi’ite fighters from the Popular Mobilization units supporting the Iraqi government forces guard a position on the northern outskirts of the city of Fallujah,AFP

Fallujah- As the Fallujah campaign continues to secure its advance, freeing it from ISIS hold, marks and slogans are left scattered all across main streets, announcing who will truly be holding the reigns of the city post its liberation.

A highway overpass in central Fallujah, from which ISIS militants hanged a captured Iraqi soldier last year, bears the marks of the city’s latest victors, including a slogan scrawled in green spray paint: “The state of (Imam) Hussein remains.”

The overtly Shiite phrase, which appears to mimic ISIS’ own “Remain and Extend” motto, was left a week ago by one of the Shi’ite militiamen who helped drive ISIS from the Sunni city it captured in January 2014.

According to Reuters the militias’ continued presence in Fallujah and their pledges to remain for an undefined period of time raise the possibility that nearly 300,000 displaced Sunnis may not feel safe returning home anytime soon.

Keen to avoid a repeat of systematic looting, blamed on militias, after the recovery of cities like Tikrit and Baiji last year, regular government forces and militia leaders themselves say they have managed to limit abuses in Fallujah to a few isolated cases.

The government said it had arrested several perpetrators, including those suspected in the summary execution of dozens of fleeing residents.

But government efforts to keep the militias to outlying areas of Fallujah have failed, part of continuing tensions over the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a coalition of mostly Shi’ite militias that report to Iraq’s Shi’ite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi but are trained and armed by Iran.

Sunni politicians say what happened in Fallujah shows the militias should be completely barred from a planned offensive on Mosul, the most important ISIS stronghold remaining in Iraq which the authorities plan to retake this year.

Before the military assault began on May 23, Iraqi officials had said the militias would be kept outside Fallujah for fear of aggravating sectarian tensions with Sunni residents.

The militias initially indicated they would cooperate. But by mid-June, their fighters appeared on the battlefield and commanders bragged about their important contributions.

Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi later praised their role in the offensive, which was declared over on June 26.

A government spokesman said the forces deployed in Fallujah are clearing it from mines and explosives and restoring basic services so that the population can return under the supervision of the local police that will take over the city.

“When the city is secured, the forces will leave,” he said, referring to the units that don’t belong to the city, without mentioning specifically the Shi’ite paramilitary.

“Popular Mobilization is part of the security forces and they are taking part in the military operations according to the plan set by the commander in chief of the armed forces,” the spokesman added, referring to Abadi.

Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, one of the PMF leaders and head of Kataib Hezbollah, a constituent militia, last week pledged his fighters would not leave their positions inside Fallujah.

“The (Popular) Mobilization will continue to hold its ground in every area. The armed forces still need the Popular Mobilization,” he said in an interview posted online on June 26.

Nuri, the Badr spokesman, said the PMF would leave “as soon as security returns”, but could not specify how long that might take.