Iraqi-Shia militias suffer heavy losses against IS

Iraqi-Shia militias suffer heavy losses against IS

Fighters from Iraq's controversial Popular Mobilisation Units have suffered heavy casualties as they attempt to retake Tal Afar, a town still held by IS militants.

2 min read
22 November, 2016
Alleged executions and abuses carried out by PMU fighters have stoked local fears [Getty]

Iraqi militia fighters have suffered heavy casualties as they attempt to retake Tal Afar, a town near Mosul still held by the Islamic State group.

Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Units) forces have fended off IS suicide car attacks, sniper fire and mortar rounds as they attempt to capture the Turkman-majority town.

"The fighting at Tal Afar has intensified, there are many challenges still ahead before the city is taken. More than 200 troops have been killed and injured in car bombs over the past two days," an Iraqi army officer told The New Arab.

"The US has refused to allow a battalion of some 70 Abrams tanks to come to the city from Mosul. The tanks could turn the tides in favour of the [militias] but the US has said they under repair and are being equipped with ammunition," he added.

After storming a former nearby airbase, the fighters have pushed forward to around four kilometres from the strategic town, 55 kilometres west along the road running from the IS bastion of Mosul.

Popular Mobilsation Units' representative Mohammed al-Barghouthi said that IS has targeted troops with several car bombs during the advance on the air base but then fled after "seeing they would not surrender".

The push by the units - a paramilitary umbrella group dominated by Tehran-backed Shia militias and nominally under the Iraqi prime minister's command - is part of the broader offensive to retake Mosul.

But while the forces' thrust should be a vital move to cut off IS escape routes, its involvement around Sunni-majority Mosul and its targeting of Tal Afar have proved deeply divisive.

Alleged executions and abuses carried out by fighters in towns and villages taken from IS elsewhere have stoked local fears and. Given its close ties to Iran, its advance has sparked warnings of a possible intervention from Turkey.

Iraqi member of parliament Intisar al-Jubouri told The New Arab that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has promised that the units will remain on the outskirts of Tal Afar.

"The [militias] have taken control of the airbase but have not entered the city. It is important that the battle for Mosul does not become an arena to settle international scores," Jubouri said.

"The government must remain committed to its decision and not allow foreign influence to drive the country into regional conflicts."