Iraqi Militias Tasked With Barring ISIS From Syria

Iraqi Shia Militia
Members of Hashd-al-Shabhi stand on the outskirts of the holy Iraqi city of Najaf, September 24. The umbrella of militias will attempt to prevent ISIS from entering Syria, its spokesman said Tuesday. Haidar Hamdani/AFP/Getty

An Iraqi paramilitary umbrella group made up of Iranian-backed Shiite militias has been ordered to cut off the Islamic State militant group's (ISIS) access to Syria in northern Iraq, in a bid to prevent thousands of jihadis fleeing to the war-torn country, its spokesman said Tuesday.

Hashd al-Shaabi, whose militias are feared for their brutality, has been a significant player in the battle to recapture ISIS-held cities in western Iraq, particularly Fallujah and Ramadi, but its role has been limited in the operation to liberate Mosul.

There are concerns that the Shiite sections of the umbrella group would inflame tensions in the predominantly Sunni Arab city, which has more than a million inhabitants. But it is now aiming to liberate the formerly Shiite town of Tal Afar, located 63 kilometers west of Mosul, and its surrounding region.

The leadership of the umbrella group has ordered its members "to assume the mission of liberating Tal Afar district," Jawwad al-Tulaibawi, spokesman of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, said in a statement, according to AFP news agency.

He added that the mission of the umbrella group will be to "cut off and prevent the escape of [ISIS] toward Syria and fully isolate Mosul from Syria. We expect that it will be a difficult and fierce battle."

French President François Hollande has warned of ISIS fighters fleeing from Mosul to Raqqa , the de facto capital of its self-declared caliphate in Syria, where they can continue to prop up the group and survive amid the turmoil in the country.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition military advisors and airstrikes, are continuing their week-long advance against ISIS in the last remaining city it holds in Iraq.

They have advanced to less than five miles of the city but ISIS has carried out a series of counter-attacks, using snipers, suicide car bombs and booby traps to slow the progress of the offensive.

Much of the operation, which consists of some 30,000 grounds troops, has focused on rooting ISIS out of territory it holds on the outskirts of Mosul. The fighting inside the city's densely populated urban areas is likely to be more fierce.

The U.N. said Tuesday that it has received information to suggest that ISIS has killed scores of people around the city since the beginning of the offensive. Iraqi security forces found the bodies of 70 civilians in a house in Tuloul Naser village south of Mosul, according to the U.N's human rights spokesman Rupert Colville.

Iraqi Militias Tasked With Barring ISIS From Syria | World