Erdogan calls Iraqi ‘Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi’ a ‘terror’ organization, Iran summons envoy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has described the Iraqi paramilitary organization Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi (popular mobilization) as a “terrorist” entity.

In an interview with the Al-Jazeera television channel, Erdogan referred to the group and said: “In the fight against Daesh in Iraq there is something striking. It’s interesting, the Iraqi Parliament says Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi is not a terror group but what is interesting is who is behind this terror group.”

The statement drew an angry response from Baghdad, with the Iraqi Foreign Ministry summoning the Turkish ambassador over the issue.

“The Foreign Ministry has decided to summon the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad to hand him a formal protest note regarding recent remarks by the Turkish president on Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi,” Ahmad Jamal, the ministry’s spokesman, was quoted as saying by AFP.

The Turkish ambassador in Baghdad, Fatih Yildiz, began his diplomatic duty in January.

Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi is an umbrella of armed groups dominated by Shiite militia loyal to Iran.

Erdogan is a reviled figure among many of Iraq’s Shiite parties, who accuse him of having directly supported the emergence of Daesh and of continuing to abet the extremists’ operations.

Political analyst and former US diplomat Ali Khedery told Arab News that he was not surprised by Erdogan’s description of Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi as a terrorist organization.

“Going back to the 1980s, Iran did in fact create these Iraqi Shiite militias,” Khedery said. “It has since continued to train, arm, finance and, in many cases, direct them in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and now Yemen, and potentially the Gulf countries as well. Turkey’s and the Gulf states’ positions on these Iranian-commanded and controlled militias — whether they are under the guise of the so-called Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi, which has been brought under the control of a government umbrella — is that they are terrorist organizations.”

As to why Iran has promoted these kinds of militias, Khedery said: “I believe that it is Iran’s strategic plan, or Tehran’s strategic plan, to reconstitute the ancient Persian empire, which stretched from the Mediterranean all the way to the Indian Ocean through Afghanistan and Pakistan. That means Iran has Arabs, Afghans and Pakistanis dying en masse to advance Persian interests under the guise of Shiite unity. I don’t honestly think that the mullahs in Tehran give a damn about the global Shiite population. They only care about Persia.”

Khedery said the global community should join in the efforts to counter such militias.

“Turkey and the Gulf countries can — and they should — counter them. But I believe that the entire world should come together to counter them because Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions are a threat to global security and stability,” he said.

“This is a global problem. One of the many reasons Daesh exists is because of unjust rule by Baghdad and Damascus. That rule caused the disenfranchisement of millions of Sunni Arabs, which turned into an insurgency and has been taken advantage of by jihadi groups.”

On why the West is obsessed with the threat posed by Daesh more than that of the Shiite militias, Khedery said: “I share that concern and I share that frustration but I don’t have an answer.”

He added: “I think it is principally because while Shiite radicals pioneered the concept of suicide bombers, namely in Lebanon against the US Embassy and the marine barracks, Americans have a really short memory… The view among the majority is that yes, the Shiite militias and Iranian Revolutionary Guards are a problem but they didn’t blow up the World Trade Center. So we will deal with them later but, in the meantime, the immediate threat is Daesh, Al-Qaeda and other radical Sunni groups.”