by Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –
Shiite popular mobilization units (Iran-backed militias) have played a key role in taking of the northern city of Talafar from ISIL. The ninth armored division of the regular army and the military’s counter-terrorism brigandes have also played an important role. A government spokesman said that only 5% of the city center remains in the hands of Daesh (ISIL, IS, ISIS). The government has also captured the city’s citadel.
Iraqi government spokesman Yahya Rasul said that the neighborhoods in the north of the largely Turkmen city still under Daesh / ISIL control included al-Muthanna al-Awwal, al-`Askari, and al-Sina`a. Some 27 other neighborhoods in the city have been liberated.
The military campaign continues to liberate the remaining 30% of the city and its environs still in Daesh hands.
On Friday, the Shiite militias had discovered a major Daesh/ ISIL weapons stockpile.
The Shiite militias had been kept out of the battle for Mosul, except to the degree that they surrounded it to the West and north and prevented Daesh fighters from escaping to Syria. Because Mosul is a largely Sunni Arab city with a proud Sunni heritage, having it conquered by the Shiite militias would have been problematic. Talafar, however, has a significant Shiite community and it used, as least, to be the majority, and so the same sensitivities are not there in this campaign.
The Sunni Arab Gulf press is complaining about Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi’s deployment of these Shiite militias, saying that even Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr disapproved of them playing a leading role in the assault.
In past campaigns by the popular mobilization units in Sunni areas, there have been reprisal killings and village massacres, making these militias anathema in the largely Sunni Gulf. Al-Khaleej in the UAE says that Iranian leader Ali Khamenei hailed the militias in ways that make it clear he views them as a pro-Iran force he can use to intervene in Iraqi affairs.
However upset the Sunni Arab monarchies in the Gulf might be, the Shiite militias are prominent in the Talafar campaign, and it is clear that Iran is happy enough with their role.