A group affiliated with a predominantly Shiite paramilitary force backed by Iran and legally operating as a component of the Iraqi military has reportedly bombed Kurdish Peshmerga positions in northern Iraq’s Sinjar region, Rudaw reports.
The Yazidi-majority town of Sinjar, also spelled Shingal, sits in northern Iraq’s Nineveh province, right outside of the Kurdistan Region that borders Shiite powerhouse Iran. Known as Eastern Kurdistan, the Iranian side is home to the country’s Kurdish population.
Both the Shiite-led government in Baghdad and Iran are opposed to Kurdish independence in Iraq, a desire expressed by the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) as recently as last month.
Rudaw reports that a group affiliated with the Iran-allied Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and Hashd al-Shaabi, recently attacked the KRG peshmerga forces, considered U.S. allies against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
“We are awaiting an official response from the Hashd al-Shaabi regarding the incident,” Halgurd Hikmat, a spokesman for the KRG peshmerga ministry, told Rudaw, adding that “it is not the first time such things are happening.” The PMU has not yet commented on the incident, acknowledges the Kurdish news outlet.
Although the majority of PMU fighters are Shiites, the group also includes some Sunni tribesmen, Kurds, and even Christians.
Earlier this month, officials from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) revealed that the PMU is trying to establish a base in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. Sheikh Jaafar Mustafa, a top KDP official, told Rudaw that the Iran-allied force has been trying to recruit Iraqi Kurds. In December, Faruq Ahmad, a top official with the KDP Asayish security force, told Rudaw that the PMU has already formed an all-Kurdish brigade.
Although the majority of Kurds are Sunni, including the KRG president, there are some Shiites, particularly in and around Iran.
The KDP cooperates with its longtime rival the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in administering northern Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government. Both the KDP and PUK have protested the presence of the Iran-allied paramilitary group in the Kurdistan region.
The Iraqi parliament has enacted a law to make the PMU legal and place the force under the control of the Iraqi armed forces, though answering directly to Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.
The U.S. military has been accused of arming and training PMU fighters, believed to be committing war crimes while participating in the ongoing offensive to retake Mosul, the last major ISIS stronghold in Iraq.