Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units, a militia fighting against Islamic State, have given an openly sectarian name to their plan for liberating the city of Ramadi.
The Shiite volunteer fighters of the PMU are calling the operation “Labbayk ya Hussein,” that is, “At your service, O Hussein.” The slogan is a common devotional phrase among Shiite Muslims, who consider Muhammad’s grandson Hussein an early Shiite martyr at the hands of Sunnis.
Other fighting forces associated with the chant are Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran’s military.
The PMU and other Shiite groups, including those with explicit Iranian support, are among the most effective forces combating Islamic State’s advances in Iraq. But many warn that their efforts to defeat the jihadi group, with backing from Iraq and Iran’s governments, may lead Iran to tighten its grip on a post-IS Iraq. (RELATED: ISIS Exploited Sandstorm To Launch Attack On Iraqi City)
In fact, retired U.S. diplomat Ryan Crocker, who has spent decades working on Middle East policy, told Foreign Policy magazine over the weekend that “There is something worse than IS, and that is Iranian backed militias invading Sunni territory.”
Iraq’s Sunnis, meanwhile, fear the continuing dominance of a Shiite-led government in Baghdad appearing to take orders from Iran. While Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, a Shiite, has made staunch statements against Islamic State, many accuse his military of failing to adequately protect the Sunnis who live in territories held by the group, which is itself vehemently Sunni. (RELATED: ISIS Claims Attacks On Two Mosques Hundreds Of Miles Apart)
The government’s reluctance to send troops to Ramadi is the result of American pressure, operating under the argument that an influx of Shiite fighters to an IS-held Sunni stronghold would increase the Sunnis’ likelihood of supporting the terrorists. But in an interview with the BBC, Abadi has said that the recapture of Ramadi by the new joint military-militia operation could come “within days.”
Abadi also denied that the 1,500 soldiers who fled Ramadi in the face of several hundred IS fighters because they lacked the “will to fight,” as Secretary of State Ash Carter asserted over the weekend.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told Reuters Tuesday that the choice of name was “unhelpful” in a conflict that was already exacerbating tensions between Sunni civilians and Shiites in the government.
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