Iraq militia turns to reconstruction post-Daesh

Author : Mircea Birca | Wednesday, March 7, 2018
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Three months ago, Ibrahim Ali was using his digger to smash down defensive embankments built by Daesh group militants in northern Iraq.

But after years of digging for victory, he and his comrades have now turned their skills to civilian use: gouging out irrigation channels for farmers in the southern province of Basra.

“What I’m doing makes me happy,” he said, gelled hair glimmering above his sun-browned face.

In 2014, Ali and tens of thousands of others mobilised against Daesh, in response to a call by Iraq’s top Shiite authority, Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

They joined the Hashed Al Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation Units, a paramilitary umbrella organisation set up to fight Daesh.

Aged 23 at the time, Ali left his parents and his work as a day labourer in the province of Babylon, south of Baghdad.

As he knew how to operate bulldozers and other heavy equipment, he was assigned to the Hashed’s engineering corps, with its slogan: “build and fight”.

In December, Iraq announced victory over the Sunni extremists of Daesh, but the Shiite-dominated Hashed was not disbanded. Having proved itself as a formidable force on the battlefield, the coalition has become popular across the country, including among many Sunnis.

It now seeks to become a key political player, putting forward candidates in May elections and playing more of a role in the country’s civilian affairs.

Ali joined other Hashed engineers and drivers heading to Basra − an overwhelmingly Shiite province with more oil resources but poorer infrastructure than any other province.

“We started fighting, now we’re building, which is also a way to continue the fight,” said Kazem Akram, the engineer in charge of Ibrahim’s team in the Al-Qurnah district.

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