Many Iraqis are demanding an end to the control exerted by Iran-aligned militias over areas of Iraq liberated from the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).
Residents of these areas have been complaining of violations committed by militiamen, including kidnappings, killings, disappearances and the exploitation of public funds and resources.
In mid-October, 12 civilians were kidnapped from the village of Farhatiya in Salaheddine province. Eight bodies bearing gunshot wounds were later found, while the fate of the remaining four men remains unknown.
The victims' families have said the Popular Mobilisation Forces' 42nd Brigade, a faction of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, is behind the crime, though the militia has denied the accusations and sought to blame ISIS.
"This is not the first crime committed by militias against residents of liberated areas," political scholar Taha al-Lahibi told Diyaruna.
Iran-backed militias have targeted the residents of these areas before, and continue to do so, he said, pointing out that regardless of whether ISIS or the Iran-backed militias are to blame, civilians "pay a very high price".
The militias have "kidnapped and forcibly disappeared large numbers of residents" in areas formerly controlled by ISIS, including the Ninawa province city of Mosul, Anbar and Salaheddine provinces, he said.
An estimated 10,000 civilians are missing from Salaheddine, and their fate remains unknown, al-Lahibi said.
"There also are 2,000 displaced and missing residents from the Jurf al-Sakhr area where the militias are stationed," he added, saying that their presence is preventing the return of these individuals.
The situation is the same in other areas and villages that have been liberated from ISIS but whose residents are still unable to return, al-Lahibi said.
In addition to blocking the return of civilians, militias are forcing residents to pay bribes and taxes, he said, and have exploited state resources allocated to liberated areas by bidding for government construction project contracts.
The incident in Farhatiya "is further evidence of the criminality of these militias, who are supported by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) against our country", he said.
He accused them of engaging in "systematic efforts to incite chaos and sectarianism and destroy the future of our children".
Rogue groups must be outlawed
There have been calls for militias to be expelled from the areas liberated from ISIS "as their loyalty does not lie with Iraq", military expert Jalil Khalaf Shwayel told Diyaruna.
In the aftermath of the battle to oust ISIS, some militias have exploited their position of power to terrorise local populations and deny people their rights, he said, noting that their presence has hindered stability in these areas.
"Liberated cities are in dire need of the presence of large [military] units that preserve the security and safety of their people," he said.
"The security of these cities should be the responsibility of the official and regular forces alone," he added, noting that the threat from ISIS also persists.
He pointed to an October 27th ISIS attack that killed a prominent tribal leader in Diyala's al-Muqdadiya district, along with four members of his family.
Commenting on the continued presence of militias, Shwayel said it is "unacceptable to deploy rogue factions that do not take their orders from the state, as these groups are considered outlaws and must be held accountable".
Iraqi MP for Salaheddine Muqdam al-Jumaili said the people of the liberated cities "support the authority of security forces in their areas and their efforts to hunt down remaining terrorists".
"The local population appreciates the sacrifices of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) and the tribal forces in liberating their cities and eliminating the threat of ISIS," he told Diyaruna.
But there are elements who claim to belong to the PMF but commit crimes and illegal acts against civilians in the name of those forces, thus tarnishing their reputation, he said.
"We demand that a greater role be given to the local police in protecting the liberated cities, as they are able to hold the land on their own and protect the people," al-Jumaili said.