It’s official: Sunnis joining Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units
Sunnis are saying “sign me up” now that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has approved the appointment of 40,000 Sunni fighters to the Popular Mobilization Units, a force that was once almost exclusively Shiite.
Samer al-Hamdani, who in 2014 fled from Baiji in northern Iraq to Baghdad, says he is ready to return to his liberated city and join up. He told Al-Monitor, “It is essential for the Popular Mobilization Units to include Iraqis of all spectra for it to become a national institution able to earn everybody’s approval and respect, away from sectarian labels.”
He added, “The presence of 40,000 Sunni fighters creates an important and necessary balance within the Popular Mobilization Units. But we hope the politicians’ positions and statements avoid sectarian incitement, so as not to offend the [group], which must be excluded from interventions and conflicts between the political blocs.”
Iraqi parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri had said in June, “Sunnis find it difficult to join the ranks of the Popular Mobilization Units, and the door is not open for them to be part of it.” But the Iraqi government believes it has become necessary to officially involve Sunni fighters in the war against the Islamic State. Abadi’s decision could help change the public image of the Popular Mobilization Units as a Shiite fighting organization.
It seems that the units’ image began shifting even before Abadi’s decision. Karim al-Nuri, the group’s spokesman, told Al-Monitor, “Thousands of Sunni fighters joined the ranks of the Popular Mobilization Units months ago.” He described their presence as positive and necessary and said, “We believe that areas must be liberated by their residents, who know the geography and details relating to the people who joined the ranks of IS, and know information about the organization’s locations and weapons caches.”