Baghdad (AFP) - Iraqi officials have blasted calls to disband a Shiite-dominated militia coalition that has been key in battling the Islamic State group, after French President Emmanuel Macron said it should disarm.
The 60,000-strong Hashed al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation Forces, was formed in 2014 after IS routed government forces to seize swathes of northern Iraq, and it played a central role in helping push back the jihadists.
Calls have grown from the West for the Hashed, an umbrella group dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias that is officially controlled by Iraq's prime minister, to be dismantled as the IS "caliphate" has been reduced to a few pockets of desert.
"Any such discussion is rejected and we do not accept interference in Iraqi affairs," said one of the group's leaders, Ahmad al-Assadi.
"Asking for the dissolution of the Hashed is like asking for the dissolution of the Iraqi army because the Hashed are a key element of Iraqi security."
Macron called at a press conference with Iraqi Kurdish leaders on Saturday for "a gradual demilitarisation" of the Hashed and for all militias in Iraq to be "dismantled".
"Emmanuel Macron interfered unexpectedly in Iraq's internal affairs by calling for the dismantling of a legal institution, Hashed al-Shaabi," vice president and former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki wrote on Facebook Saturday.
"We don't want any country to impose its will on the Iraqi government and the brave Iraqi nation," the leading Shiite politician said.
The Hashed is deeply divisive inside Iraq and among the country's international backers, and has been accused both of promoting Iranian interests and carrying out a wave of abuses.
In October, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi strongly defended the Hashed after comments from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Iranian militias in Iraq should "go home".