A top commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), also known as Hashd al-Sha’abi, says the paramilitary group has deployed forces to the border with Syria in a bid to support army troops, who have come under militant fire from the war-torn country over the past three days.
“After several Iraqi border guard positions came under several attacks by missiles, and backup from security forces was late, the 13th Brigade of the Popular Mobilization Units was deployed and targeted the origins of the launch,” the PMU commander for western Anbar, Qassim Mesleh, said in a statement on Friday.
There was no immediate report on who exactly launched the attacks from Syrian territory. However, it is likely that after suffering a total defeat in Iraq and losing urban strongholds in Syria, the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group has resorted to guerrilla warfare against the Iraqi border guard troops.
“The operations command and the infantry brigade are now present on the Iraqi-Syrian border in border guard positions to repel any attack or movement by the enemy,” Mesleh further said, adding, “This area is not within the PMU’s remit but it is our duty to back up all security forces.”
Meanwhile, Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, an Iraqi military spokesman, confirmed the deployment, saying it was temporary and “very normal” since it was the PMU’s duty to back up government troops.
“The primary responsibility for the borders lies with the border guards and the army, however,” he added.
The PMU is an Iraqi state-sponsored umbrella organization composed of some 40 groups, which are mainly Shia Muslims.
The force reportedly numbers more than 100,000 fighters. Iraqi authorities say there are between 25,000 and 30,000 Sunni tribal fighters within its ranks in addition to Kurdish Izadi and Christian units. The fighters have played a major role in the liberation of Daesh-held areas to the south, northeast and north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, ever since the terrorists launched an offensive some three years ago.
Hashd al-Sha’abi, officially made part of the Iraqi security establishment by law, formally answers to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. In November 2016, the Iraqi parliament voted to integrate the paramilitary group into the military.
Earlier this month, Abadi declared the end of military operations against Daesh after a three-year hard campaign by government troops and PMU fighters against the terror outfit.
Daesh began its reign of terror and destruction in Syria and Iraq in 2013 and 2014, respectively. In June 2014, the group declared its so-called “caliphate” in both Arab countries after it seized the Iraqi city of Mosul and pronounced it as the group’s de facto capital in Iraq. Daesh also made the city of Raqqah as its main stronghold in Syria.
However, the terror group gradually lost the areas it had seized, thanks to the efforts made by government and pro-government forces in both Arab countries. In Syria, Daesh now holds just a few dwindling pockets of land.