Iraqi militia leader visits Syria to counter Saudi intervention

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As the New Arab reports:

An Iraqi spokesman for the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) militias has visited Syria to meet with high-ranking government officials and commanders to form an alliance against possible Saudi military intervention in Syria.

Ahmad al-Assadi, the head of the Kataib Jund al-Imam, made the unannounced visit to Syria on Monday, according to local media, as Saudi Arabia has increased pressure on the Syrian regime.

The umbrella alliance of various Shia militia groups operate with a great deal of autonomy in Iraq and have been repeatedly accused of human rights abuses.

“The aim of Assadi’s visit is to band together the Iraqi and Syrian armed factions to repel any Gulf military intervention against IS,” a source close to the Popular Mobilisation told The New Arab.

“The majority of the factions have agreed to resist any Gulf military force that interferes in Syria or Iraq,” the source added.

Saudi Arabia announced on Saturday that it had deployed warplanes to a Turkish airbase in order to “intensify” its operations against the Islamic state group [IS] in Syria.

Possible Saudi intervention in Syria, where rebels have recently lost ground to regime forces backed by intense Russian air raids, has been met with strong condemnation from Syrian, Iranian and Iraqi militia officials.

Turkey’s air force on Monday began five days of air defence exercises with Saudi Arabia, as the two countries forge an increasingly tight alliance on Syria.

Saudi Arabia and Turkey both see the ousting of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as essential for ending Syria’s five-year civil war and are bitterly critical of Iran and Russia’s support of the Syrian regime.

Turkey and Saudi back rebels who are seeking to oust Assad and both fear the West is losing its appetite to topple Assad on the assumption he is “the lesser of two evils” compared to the IS militants.

Also on Monday, the Popular Mobilisation held a symbolic funeral at Muthenna air base, about 20 kilometres east of Baghdad, for over 30 militiamen recently killed in battle against IS in Anbar and Salah al-Din provinces north-west of the capital.

Popular Mobilisation troops have played a key role in the fight against IS in Iraq.

But the Iranian-backed militias and their affiliates have also been accused of abuses including summary executions, kidnappings and destruction of property.

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