Iraqi premier vows to prevent violations by Shiite militia

During his first visit to the Kurdistan region of Erbil since becoming premier last year, Haider Al Abadi also pledged to work with Kurdish authorities to liberate the northern province of Nineveh from ISIL.

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BAGHDAD // Iraq’s prime minister vowed on Monday to protect the people living in territories controlled by the ISIL group from any retribution when their lands are retaken by government forces.

During his first visit to the Kurdistan region of Erbil since becoming premier last year, Haider Al Abadi also pledged to work with Kurdish authorities to liberate the northern province of Nineveh from ISIL.

“Our visit to Erbil today is to coordinate and cooperate on a joint plan to liberate the people of Nineveh,” he said at a joint news conference with Kurdish president Massoud Barzani on Monday.

He said Baghdad and Erbil faced a common enemy and would improve ties to help confront the threat.

Mr Al Abadi declined to lay out a timetable for the plan to retake Nineveh, of which Mosul is capital, in order not to lose the “element of surprise”.

The trip comes less than a week after ISIL militants were driven out of Tikrit by Iraqi forces including Shiite militia, backed by coalition air strikes.

“We assure the people of Anbar and Ninevah provinces and other territories under ISIL control that we do respect the people and will not tolerate any violations against their properties, rights and souls,” Mr Al Abadi said.

Volunteer Shiite militiamen, known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces, have fought alongside Iraqi army troops and are credited with playing a crucial role in pushing ISIL militants out of Tikrit and other cities. However, the Iranian-backed Shiite militias have also been accused of looting and vandalising the Sunni towns they have retaken.

Mr Al Abadi admits that dozens of houses and shops were burnt in Tikrit, and that several people were arrested and now await trial over violations committed there.

With Tikrit taken, many residents expect the government offensive to now target either Anbar province or Ninevah province — home to Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul — for the next phase of the effort to push back the ISIL group.

But some Sunni residents remain fearful that a government victory would simply trade the harsh rule of the militants for vengeance from undisciplined Shiite militiamen.

ISIL controls about a third of northern and western Iraq.

In Monday’s violence, police and hospital officials said three people were killed and 17 others were wounded in two separate bombings targeting public spaces in the capital of Baghdad.

* Associated Press, Reuters