A member of the mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi takes part in the fight against the ISIS group in Iraq. Photo: Hashd al-Shaabi media office
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region— Over 700 people, Iraqis and foreigners, have been kidnapped in Baghdad in 2016 in a new wave of systematic abductions which members of the parliament say is an outcome of the recent rise of militia groups following the ISIS war in the country.
The figures have not been backed by official government statistics and are largely based on sporadic media reports throughout last year. Police has so far declined to offer detailed data about registered kidnappings.
“We have always insisted that guns must be in the hands of the security forces alone and not the immoral militia gangs,” said lawmaker Awad Mohsin Razi from the Shiite Sadr movement.
“The Sadr wants the government to be strong and wants the Iraqis to cooperate with the authorities in eliminating terror, killings, abductions, theft and assault that are perpetrated by handful of immoral militia groups,” Razi told Rudaw.
Late last month, a Qatari group of 26 hunters, who had been kidnapped in southern Iraq two years earlier, were released following what appeared to be a regional deal involving the freeing of prisoners and the evacuation of civilians in neighbouring Syria.
Iraqi activist and journalist Afrah Shawqi was also freed earlier this year after she was abducted last December by armed men who broke into her house in Baghdad. Earlier that month, Ali Sajad, a 14-year-old resident of Baghdad was among dozens of other people kidnapped in the Iraqi capital.
Some commentators in the media have laid the blame on the rapid expansion of Shiite militia group known as the Hashd al Shaabi in the country which has over 100,000 recruits with no centralised authority to effectively control its vastly young armed force.
“We condemn those who are engaged in atrocities in the name of Hashd al Shaabi. These (kidnappers) are not part of the Hashd al Shaabi, but they are thieves and kidnappers,” said Karim Nouri a commander with the militia group.
“The true place of the Hashd al Shaabi is not in Baghdad or other cities, but the forefront of the battle,” Nouri said.
The Hashd al-Shaabi, or the Popular Mobilisation Force, was established in the wake of ISIS’ rampage across northern and western parts Iraq as the Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani called on his followers to defend the country against Sunni extremists.
The militia, not recognised by the US and its anti-ISIS coalition, has been instrumental in defeating Islamic militants in several regions including in Diyala province near Baghdad.
The militia, which consists of more than 60 smaller Shiite groupings, has been officially funded and recognised by the Iraqi government since December last year.