Radical Iraqi cleric and militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr is preparing his forces for a push toward the Islamic State held-city of Mosul, a move that could lead to a bloody sectarian fight.
Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal reported Tuesday that al-Sadr’s Peace Brigades (Saraya al-Salam) website posted that “preparations are underway” for the city’s invasion. In one of the two statements posted regarding Mosul, al-Sadr aide Haj Abu al-Issawi said the Peace Brigades have been told to “get ready for the battle of Mosul.” Another statement said that the Brigades’ Third Division said the unit is ready “to participate in the liberation of Mosul.”
Considering al-Sadr’s militias are made up of Shia Muslims, there are serious concerns that an invasion of the predominantly Sunni city of Mosul would lead to a bloodbath.
“The fighting for Mosul should be intense if Islamic State decided to stand and fight,” Roggio told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The militias have proven that they are undisciplined when operating in Sunni areas. I would expect war crimes galore.”
Muqtada al-Sadr gained notoriety during the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Following the toppling of Saddam Hussein, he told 60 Minutes, “the little serpent has left, and the great serpent has come.” That same year al-Sadr would call for a jihad against the U.S. occupation, unleashing his Mahdi Army on U.S. personnel. He continues to be one of the most influential figures in Iraqi politics post-occupation, despite holding no office or title. Earlier this month, followers of the Sadr Trend political movement stormed Iraqi parliament and Baghdad’s Green Zone, demanding government reform.
Today, Al-Sadr’s Peace Brigades are made up of some of the same individuals who less than a decade ago were fighting U.S. personnel on the streets of Iraq. Already an influential force, al-Sadr’s militias and various other Iranian-backed Shia units, were officially adopted into the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in 2014, and are now referred to as Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs). The PMUs have regularly been accused of engaging in heinous acts and war crimes throughout the ISIS fight.
ISIS, as a Sunni terrorist organization, is vehemently anti-Shia. The terrorist group’s theological tradition, known as Takfir in Arabic, considers Shia Muslims heretical, and believes they should be destroyed in an effort to purify Islam. This doctrine makes the Peace Brigades and ISIS sworn enemies.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has stated that using Shia militias to take Mosul, ISIS’ de facto Iraqi capital, has been ruled out, but with half of the ISF stationed in Baghdad and al-Sadr’s groups foaming at the mouth for a fight, he may have no choice in the matter.
“Baghdad really can’t do much to stop them from deploying if they really want to go, short of putting the military in their path,” said Roggio to TheDCNF. “The Shia militias are powerful and have been acting autonomously. And they have the support of a significant segment of the Shia population and influential members within government as well as Iran.”
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