ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—Iraq’s Sunni militia group known as Hashd-al-Watani has been receiving monthly wages directly from Turkey after Baghdad froze payments to the group in August, according to an Iraqi member of parliament.

 

Shakhawan Abdullah, head of Iraqi parliamentary defense and security committee told Rudaw that Ankara makes monthly payments of 600,000 Iraqi dinars (about $500) to more than 6,000 fighters of the Sunni group in addition to providing them with combat training and armament.

 

Hashd-al-Watani, which is seen as a counterbalance to the more powerful Iran-backed Shiite militia group known as Hashd-al-Shaabi, was initially established to recruit Sunni fighters willing to take part in a possible assault on the Islamic State (ISIS) in its Mosul stronghold.

 

The Sunni group was until recently funded by the Iraqi government, trying to avert sectarian tensions in a region of mostly underprivileged Sunni populations who have often had hostile attitudes towards government policies in the past.

 

The government has regularly sent monthly salaries to state employees in Mosul despite the ISIS control, fearing more people would turn to ISIS if Baghdad withheld their wages.

 

The government, however, removed Mosul’s exiled governor Atheel Nujaifi, a Sunni, accusing him of mismanaging the Sunni militia and turning it into his own army.

 

In early December Ankara sent between 150 and 300 soldiers and 20 tanks to the Bashiqa region of Nineveh province to train the Sunni fighters.

 

The commander of the Hashd-al-Watani at Bashiqa camp, told Rudaw his troops were now directly funded by Turkey.

 

General Muhammad Yahya said the number of Turkish military trainers had gone up since they first arrived in late July this year.

 

“Some five months ago 10 Turkish military trainers arrived at the Bashiqa camp to coach our troops,” he said. “But since the start of this month they increased the number to 110 trainers and also deployed an additional troop to protect them,”

 

Turkish Defense Minister Ismat Yilmaz said last week their forces were there to “train and reorganize defensive military units” in the area.

 

General Yahya maintained that nearly 10,000 soldiers and police officers have been trained and prepared to recapture the city of Mosul from the ISIS.

 

Rudaw