Security

Militias rob Anbar schools, government buildings

By Hassan al-Obeidi

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Iraqi children walk with their school bag on the shoulders on the first day of school in the city of Mosul on October 21st, 2019. [Zeid al-Obeidi/AFP]

Vital equipment and supplies have been stripped from schools and government buildings in western Anbar, with local officials pointing the finger of blame at Iran-backed militias operating in the area near the Iraq-Syria border.

A recent spate of robberies has targeted government facilities and school buildings that were rehabilitated as part of a UN initiative to support education in western Anbar cities, local officials told Diyaruna.

The raids were carried out by armed militiamen positioned on the outskirts of al-Qaim, al-Rummana and Husaybah, they said.

Classroom desks, science teaching aids and computers were stolen from six primary and secondary schools, along with water coolers, lamps and generators.

All the items stolen from the schools had been provided by international organisations to support education in areas liberated from the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

Thieves also targeted the water department in Husaybah, the Centre for Combating Desertification, and the cultural centres in al-Qaim and Husaybah.

In the town of al-Rummana, furniture and other items were stolen from three government offices.

'Daylight robbery'

According to an official in al-Qaim district governor's office who asked to remain anonymous, Kataib Hizbullah, Harakat al-Nujaba and al-Tafuf militia have been involved in the looting "which is now also taking place in broad daylight".

Militiamen are seizing government property and moving it to their headquarters for their own use, he told Diyaruna, "and we fear that some of it is being transferred to Syria as well".

"Students of al-Adl High School will not be able to find [desks] to use as everything at the school was looted and hauled away aboard large trucks belonging to the militias," he said.

A water pump, water refrigerator and street lights also were stolen, he said.

Most recently, he said, militiamen raided a municipal department where drilling equipment and a fuel storage tank were stored, and stole all these items.

Iraqi MP Hamid al-Mutlaq said there have been complaints in the western regions of Anbar of thefts and transgressions carried out by lawless militias.

These include the theft of agricultural sprinklers provided by the government to farmers to regulate water consumption; and complaints from merchants, farm owners, contractors and investors that tributes are being imposed on them.

He also pointed to Iran-backed factions operating in these areas.

Smuggling to Syria

Sheikh Nassar al-Issawi, who hails from al-Rutba in western Anbar but now resides in Jordan, told Diyaruna the militias are involved in systematic looting.

They transport the items they steal to Syria, where they are sold by parties affiliated with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, he said.

The theft and smuggling operations currently include medicines, laboratory materials, electrical transformers, auto parts such as engines, electrical wires pulled from the streets, as well as gasoline and kerosene, he said.

These items are taken to Syria, where they are in short supply, he added.

Some militias rely on smuggling operations and theft to fund their activities in Iraq, al-Issawi said, pointing out that Iraqi militias also are involved with Lebanese Hizbullah's drug-smuggling operations.

The theft of public property by Iran-backed militias is no longer confined to a specific area, "as they give themselves the right to break into any place and take whatever they want", Iraqi security expert Fouad Ali told Diyaruna.

"This unfortunately includes targeting shepherds and farmers," he said.

Kataib Hizbullah, Harakat al-Nujaba, al-Khorasani, al-Tafuf, Sayed al-Shuhada and al-Budala are stationed at the Iraq-Syria border and move between the two countries, he said.

"In Baghdad, the militias are firing Katyusha rockets, kidnapping and killing activists, and in Anbar, they are stealing school furnishings and electrical transformers," Ali said.

All these hostilities serve to "rob Iraqis of their peace and security, on Iran's orders", he added.

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