Iraq considers reinstating conscription

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Iraqi lawmakers were due to examine on Sunday a bill seeking to reestablish military conscription in the country, nearly 20 years after its abolition.

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Service in the armed forces was mandatory in Iraq from 1935 up until 2003, when a US-led invasion toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein.

The bill would pave the way for the conscription of young men aged 18 to 35, for terms between three and 18 months depending on their education level, MP Yasser Iskander Watout told AFP.

They would receive allowances ranging from 600,000 to 700,000 Iraqi dinars (more than $400), added Watout, who serves on the legislature’s defense committee.

It would take two years after the passing of the law to fully restore conscription, Watout said, adding that only-sons and breadwinners would be exempted.

Since Saddam’s overthrow Iraq has suffered sectarian conflict and ISIS’ takeover of large swathes of territory, before the extremists’ defeat in late 2017 by Iraqi forces backed by a US-led military coalition.

That anti-ISIS coalition continued a combat role in Iraq until last December, but roughly 2,500 American soldiers remain in Iraq to offer training, advice and assistance to national forces.

The bill was initially submitted by the defense ministry in August 2021, under the government of then-prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi.

Iraq later that year elected a new parliament, which only last month swore in a government led by Mohammed Shia al-Sudani after a year of political paralysis.

Despite the declared victory over ISIS, members of the group continue to stage intermittent attacks on government forces and the former paramilitary Hashed al-Shaabi, now integrated into the regular forces.

This persistent “terrorist threat” prompted MP Sikfan Sindi to call, in a recent interview with state news agency INA, for the reinstatement of military service.

Though it is unclear whether the bill would receive much backing in parliament, it has already drawn a backlash within the legislature and beyond.

“The militarization of society will not create patriotism,” lawmaker Saeb Khidr of the minority Yazidi community, which was brutalized by ISIS, told AFP.

In a country where nearly four out of 10 young people are unemployed, former electricity minister Louai al-Khatib suggested it was more important to “create centers for professional training” rather than reinstate conscription.

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