Qais al-Khazali, the head of the Iranian-funded Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq Shiite militia, delivers a speech on December 13, 2017. Photo: Khazali twitter account
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitaries have lost more than 7,000 and sustained more than 21,000 injuries during the war against the ISIS group since 2014, an influential Shiite militia leader has revealed.
Qais al-Khazali, who is the head of the Iranian-funded Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, said that with the sacrifices of the Hashd forces, they were able to foil the “plots” of the American forces and that of the extremists in Iraq and the region.
The Hashd forces lost 7,637 fighters, and sustained 21,300 injuries, Khazali said on Wednesday, adding that his group specifically lost 956 fighters with another 2,743 injured.
The Iraqi army is yet to release the figures for their casualties. But earlier this year, the US-led Global Coalition stated that they lost about 10,000 soldiers.
The Kurdish Peshmerga stated that they lost more than 1,800 soldiers, and sustained more than 10,000 injuries.
Khazali said that they took part in every major Iraqi-led combat operation in the country except for Mosul in Nineveh province in northern Iraq, and Ramadi in the western province of Anbar due objections from the US-led Global Coalition.
“We must mention that this sacred Hashd is a pride to Iraq and Iraqis, it is even the greatest pride in the history of Iraq since the establishment of the first civilization of Sumer in Iraq thousands of years ago until this very day,” the Shiite leader said in a speech.
The Hashd forces have been criticized for human rights violations during and after the liberation of Sunni areas throughout the war, and most recently when they attacked the disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed both Erbil and Baghdad such as the oil-rich and diverse province of Kirkuk and multi-ethnic Tuz Khurmatu city. The force mostly has denied the accusations.
The Hashd, unlike the Kurdish forces, have not conducted a process of “demographic change” in the liberated areas, Khazali claimed. He said the Kurdish forces announced every area they liberated as “Kurdish.”
The KRG and Peshmerga officials maintain that the disputed areas such as Kirkuk are “Kurdistani” while recognizing that other components live and have lived in these areas.
While he said that all Hashd units must come under the command of the Iraqi prime minister, per a law passed by the Iraqi parliament in late 2016, Khazali said that they should be considered part of the Iraqi security forces.
The Hashd has about 140,000 registered fighters across Iraq, including some from other Iraqi components, but only about 120,000 are entitled to receive their salaries from the Iraqi government, Khazali said, adding that the force is small compared to the Iraqi army or the interior ministry.
The Iraqi army has twice as many soldiers, and the interior ministry has about four times, Khazali stated.
Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, who portrays himself as the defender of the Hashd forces, said this week that nobody except for the parliament has the power to disband the Shiite force, not even the Iraqi prime minister, despite the calls from inside and outside of Iraq to do so.
“There is a law for the Hashd. The Hashd cannot be cancelled unless by the power of law. The parliament itself does not allow cancelling the Hashd,” Maliki asserted.
Khazali caused controversy earlier this month when he appeared in a video that showed him on the Lebanese border near the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights after the decision of the US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
He has also called on Arab and Islamic leaders countries to close US embassies over the Jerusalem row.
He said in October that the US army should immediately withdraw from Iraqi territory following the defeat of the ISIS group after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanded the Shiite elements of the Hashd al-Shaabi “go home.”
After the Iraqi government’s declaration of victory over ISIS on Saturday, the US State Department stated it “remain committed to standing with the Government of Iraq and the Iraqi people to stabilize areas liberated from ISIS control.”
President Trump signed a bill on Monday re-authorizing more than $1.2 billion in Iraq Train & Equip funding for 2018.