Kurdish Peshmerga and Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi seen together in the town of Tuz Khurmatu in an effort to jointly patrol the city after days of clashes, 2015. Rudaw photo
KHANAQIN, Kurdistan Region — A senior official from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) denied that the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi has stationed its own forces in the Kurdish city of Khanaqin, calling it instead rumours intended to “destabilize” the area.
Kurdish military and political officials in Khanaqin warned on Tuesday that the Shiite paramilitary group Hashd al-Shaabi had moved some of its forces closer to the city with the aim of building a base and attracting Kurds to join the force.
“No party in the past was allowed to station an armed force by [Peshmerga] therefore affecting the Kurdistan-ness of Khanaqin and its surrounding areas,” Hemin Mansour, deputy head of the PUK’s branch in Khanaqin, told his party’s PUK Media on Wednesday. “And now just like in the past, Peshmerga will remain the sole protector for the security in the area.”
The PUK is in charge of Khanaqin both in terms of its administration and security.
Sheikh Jaafar Mustafa, the representative from the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Khanaqin, told Rudaw that the Shiite paramilitary is trying to recruit Kurds in the area.
“They have come closer to here in order to recruit Kurds and we should all stop that,” said Mustafa, who heads the KDP’s 15th branch in the city. He said the Hashd al-Shaabi had moved some of its forces and intended to settle them at Palkana village near Khanaqin.
“This will lead to trouble in the area and a limit should be put on these kinds of Hashd activities,” Mustafa added.
Mansour denied the KDP’s claims.
“On behalf of the PUK’s branch in Khanaqin, we categorically deny these rumours and propaganda. We see it as an effort to destabilize peace, security and co-existence in the area.”
Khanaqin, which has a sizable Shiite Kurdish population, has been under Kurdish political, military and government administration since 2003 and on more than occasion Iraqi and Kurdish forces have come close to confrontation in the same area over issues of jurisdiction.
Mustafa explained on Tuesday that he is due to meet with his counterparts from the PUK in Khanaqin “in order to discuss the issue and prevent them [Hashd] from forming this force in this area.”
Kurdish and Shiite leaders have announced they are allies in the war against ISIS, but they have in the meantime remained steadfast in the separation of their areas of operation.
Kurdish military officials raised similar alarm late last year when the Hashd al-Shaabi was reported to have formed a new unit with its own recruitment center near the town of Tuz Khurmatu, south of Kirkuk.
“A brigade for Hashd al-Shaabi has been established, all of the members of the brigade are Kurds,” Faruq Ahmad, the head of the Kurdish Asayish security force of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Tuz Khurmatu, told Rudaw in December.
PUK officials in the area said they opposed the recruitment of Kurds by the Hashd and that they would sack any party member for signing up with the group.
“We will certainly dismiss anyone from our party who becomes a fighter for Hashd al-Shaabi,” Aso Mamand, a senior PUK official told Rudaw. “There is Peshmerga in our areas, we do not need any other force.