Thousands of Shiite men responded to a call for jihad after ISIS stormed across Iraq in June and captured a third of the country. AFP photo.
BAGHDAD, Iraq - The leader of Iraq’s Hezbollah met with Shiite clerical authorities in Najaf Sunday to discuss formal recognition of hundreds of thousands of militiamen by the government and putting them on official payroll, a Hezbollah statement said.
Sheikh Abbas al-Mahmadawi, leader of the Shiite militia group Hezbollah, said that he met with Shiite clerics in Najaf, including Ayatollah Muhammad Saeed al-Hakim, to seek recognition “for the success of the militia groups in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).”
Al-Mahmadawi added that the Shiite volunteer militia should be recognized by the authorities and compensated financially “because many of them do not have any salaries and many have been wounded and handicapped.”
According to al-Mahmadawi, there are 800,000 volunteer Shiite fighters in Iraq who joined the fight against ISIS last June.
But he added that “the numbers have been inflated by some political parties” by more than double.
“We do not have any such numbers on the ground which is put down as 2 million volunteers,” he said in a statement following his visit to Najaf.
Al-Mahmadawi hoped that Baghdad would put the Shiite militia on its payroll now that the country is about to pass this year’s budget.
Thousands of Shiite men responded to a call for jihad against ISIS by Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani last year, when the extremist Sunni group captured Mosul and made a lightening advance towards Baghdad and important Shiite shrines.
A great number of Shiite militiamen are based in the towns of Jalawla and Saadiya, north of Diyala, which they jointly liberated from ISIS in November.
Local residents, mainly the Kurdish population, have remained apprehensive about returning to their homes for fear of the armed militia groups, which operate outside government control and have been accused by Sunnis of acting as vigilantes.
On Saturday, Iraq’s parliament speaker Salim al-Jibouri met with Kurdish leaders in Sulaimani on forming a joint committee to facilitate the return of displaced peoples to Jalawla and Saadiya.
Meanwhile, around 200 tribal and political figures in Diyala met on Saturday to discuss normalizing the situation in the province after some of the fiercest battles between ISIS and a joint force of Peshmerga and Shiite militia groups.