WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S.-led coalition will not support Shi‘ite militia who might seek to participate in the campaign to retake Mosul from Islamic State and it is up to Baghdad to decide their role, a top U.S. general told Pentagon reporters on Wednesday.
Late on Tuesday, a Shi‘ite paramilitary force said it would support the Iraqi army’s offensive west of Mosul, Islamic State’s last major stronghold in Iraq, raising the risk of sectarian strife in the mainly Sunni region.
The announcement came despite warnings from human rights groups that involvement of the Popular Mobilization Force (PMF), a coalition of mostly Iranian-trained militias, could ignite sectarian violence.
“As far as the Shi‘ite PMF, the coalition only supports those elements that are under the direct command and control of the Iraqi security forces -- and the Shi‘ite PMF are not,” said Major General Gary Volesky, the commander of U.S.-led coalition ground forces in the fight against Islamic State militants.
“So we don’t support them.”
The PMF said it would back Iraqi government forces advancing toward Tal Afar, about 55 km (34 miles) west of Mosul.
Volesky declined to comment on Tal Afar “because today (we‘re) focused on Mosul.”
“As far as what the Shi‘ite PMF’s role is, again, that is up to the government of Iraq and we (advise) them on our recommendations,” Volesky said. “But at the end of the day, that is the government of Iraq’s decision.”
Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Lisa Shumaker