ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Sunday opened a hospital for COVID-19 patients established by a Shiite militia linked to the deaths of hundreds of people in anti-government protests.
Kadhimi’s media office announced that the PM officially opened al-Ataa hospital, which was converted from militia headquarters to a medical facility by Saraya al-Salam, a militia headed by the prominent Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
The hospital is in Sadr city, formerly known as Al-Thawra, a suburb northeast of Baghdad.
“Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi opened al-Ataa Hospital in Sadr City for patients infected with corona, which was established by Saraya al-Salam brigades in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and Environment,” the PM’s media office tweeted on Sunday.
Saraya al-Salam, or “Peace Brigades,” is part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), known in Arabic as Hashd al-Shaabi, a network of predominantly Shiite Muslim militias formed in 2014 to fight the Islamic State (ISIS).
The group is accused of torturing and killing Iraqi protesters in the wave of demonstrations that started in October 2019.
In another tweet, Kadhimi thanked Saraya al-Salam and Muqtada al-Sadr for their efforts in converting one of their headquarters into the hospital.
“Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi appreciates the efforts of Saraya al-Salam for establishing a hospital to provide services for the public, and thanked his eminence Muqtada al-Sadr,” the tweet read.
The government-funded Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) released a statement on Sunday commending the militia for its “humanitarian work.”
“The IHCHR has appreciated the great humanitarian role played by Saraya Al-Salam through Mercy Campaign to support poor families during the Corona pandemic, as well as its humanitarian work to convert the headquarters of Saraya Al-Salam and equip it with the latest medical equipment,” the statement read.
Iraq continues to record thousands of new COVID-19 cases a day, with 2,125 new infections announced on Sunday.
Iraqi protesters first took to the streets of Baghdad and the mainly Shiite-majority provinces of the south in October 2019 to protest against rampant corruption and the political system.
They have been met with deadly violence, including live ammunition and military grade tear gas canisters. More than 600 protesters died and at least 18,000 were injured, according to Amnesty International.
“We promised that those involved in [spilling] the blood of Iraqis will not sleep at night. We will keep this promise. Peaceful protest is a common obligation and everyone should follow it,” the PM said in May.
The opening of al-Ataa hospital comes at a time when pro-militia coalitions and political parties have accused Kadhimi of being against the PMF.
The accusations came after Kadhimi ordered the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (ICTS) to raid the headquarters of the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia, part of the PMF, in Baghdad on June 26. At least 14 fighters were detained in relation to recent rocket attacks in Baghdad, the Iraqi Joint Operation Command announced.
Following the raid, senior Kataib Hezbollah commander Abu Ali al-Askari issued a scathing attack on Kadhimi, who is also commander-in-chief of Iraq’s armed forces, for what he claimed was carrying out US bidding.
“Kadhimi once again followed his American master’s orders, and implemented another plan of theirs in Iraq, after he was involved in the assassination of the two martyrs [Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis], while the fighters of the Hashd immediately gathered and released their fellow fighters in custody,” Askari published on his official Telegram channel on Friday.
One day after the raid, Secretary General of Iran-backed militia Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Qais al-Khazali accused Kadhimi of following western agendas to target the PMF.
“A piece of advice for Kadhimi, do not stand against the PMF fighters, as they have the support of the people,” Khazali said on June 27.