PM Hader Abadi met with a delegation of tribal leaders from the Turkmen town of Tal Afar on Wednesday. Photo: PM Abadi's Facebook page
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi militia will not enter Tal Afar, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told a delegation of tribal leaders from the Turkmen town, instead, official Iraqi forces will take that responsibility, according to an Iraqi MP who attended the meeting on Wednesday.
The Shiite militia launched an offensive to the west of Mosul on Saturday with the aim of liberating areas west of the city from ISIS, in particular the town of Tal Afar.
“The wounded and victim town of Tal Afar and other towns will be among the areas [Hashd al-Shaabi] will liberate," Ahmad al-Asadi, the spokesperson for the militia, told reporters on Saturday when he announced the offensive.
Izadin al-Dawla, an Iraqi MP who represents Nineveh Province told Rudaw that the decision from Abadi to restrict the Shiite militia from entering the town followed a request from the Tal Afar tribal leaders.
“The council of tribal leaders from Tal Afar presented a request to Abadi not to let the Hashd al-Shaabi and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to enter Tal Afar for its liberation, and to send the official forces instead,” Dawla told Rudaw on Friday.
Dawla, who is also the spokesperson for the tribal leaders, said the Iraqi prime minister agreed to the request.
“Abadi agreed to our request and made the decision to send the army, the police, and the counter terrorism service to liberate the district, and called on us to form a joint force in the district after its liberation.”
Rudaw contacted Abadi’s office but it was not immediately available for comment.
A statement released by his office following the meeting with the Tal Afar delegation did not mention any decision to prevent the entrance of the Shiite militia into Tal Afar.
The statement said that the Iraqi government wants good relations with Turkey, but warned Turkey will pay the price if it ventures to enter Iraq.
Turkey has warned the Shiite forces against entering Tal Afar, for fear the Shiite militia would brutalize the town’s population, which is largely Turkmen and a mix of Sunnis and Shiites.
Earlier this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country opposed any Hashd al-Shaabi presence in Tal Afar.
“Tal Afar is a very sensitive issue for us. We definitely do not regard it [Hashd al-Shaabi involvement] positively in Tal Afar and Sinjar. I already told this to officials clearly,” Erdogan said Saturday.
“Tal Afar is a totally Turkmen city, with half Shiite and half Sunni Muslims. We do not judge people by their religious affiliation, we regard them as Muslims,” he added. “But if Hashd al-Shaabi terrorizes the region, our response would be different.”
If confirmed, the shift in the Iraqi strategy west of Mosul could be interpreted as an attempt by Baghdad to avoid a military confrontation with Turkish forces in northern Iraq over the potential roles of the Shiite militias and the PKK in the fight against ISIS.
Turkey considers the PKK as a terrorist organization, and has resumed its military operation against the Kurdish armed group in the country's southeast, and across the border in northern Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.
Earlier this week, the Turkish military began deploying tanks and military equipment to the Silopi area near the Iraqi border.
With respect to the PKK, Dawla said the Prime Minister told them that it is an organization Baghdad does not deal with and its presence in Iraq is illegitimate.
The PKK, whose forces participated in the liberation of the Yezidi town of Sinjar, has reportedly said it wants to play a role in the Mosul offensive.
The PKK itself has not clarified whether or not its forces will be part of the operation, but Tara Hussein, the spokeswoman for the Kurdistan Freedom Movement, a PKK-affiliate political entity in the Kurdistan Region, called for a joint command for all Kurdish armed groups from the four parts of Kurdistan, including the Peshmerga and PKK guerrilla fighters, to take part in the Mosul operation “to guarantee the achievements of the Kurdish nation.”
Tal Afar, west of Mosul, is a predominantly Turkmen town that was captured by ISIS two years ago when the group captured large swathes of land in the north of Iraq.