After years of repeated assurances that the Badr Brigade had ceased to exist as a militia, bearded men in military uniform bearing its insignia appeared on state-run TV last week, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with army troops.
The militiamen and their leaders offer a glimpse of what may be in store following the fighters’ public empowerment.
“Anyone who supports or sympathizes with the ISIL is a terrorist,” Abu Wareth al-Moussawi, a spokesman for the Iraqi al-Nugabaa militia, told the AP from Iran. “We will never allow ISIL to control Iraq, and we will target anyone who supports it.”
Jassim al-Jazaeri, a senior leader of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah Brigades, a Shiite militia based in southern Iraq, blames the loss of territory in the north partially on Sunni political leaders. “We know that ISIL has a base of support in Mosul,” he said.
Since al-Sistani made his call to arms Friday through a representative, Shiite militias have flexed their muscles on the streets of Baghdad and in cities across the mostly Shiite south, including Basra. There were parades of pickup trucks carrying armed fighters chanting Shiite slogans and vowing to crush the ISIL.
Radical and anti-American Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi army fought some street battles against the Americans, has called for parades of Shiite militiamen across Iraq next weekend, evidence of their empowerment.
“The defense of Iraq and its people and holy sites is a duty on every citizen who can carry arms and fight terrorists,” said al-Sistani’s representative, Sheik Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie, in a Friday sermon. “They must volunteer in the security forces for this holy cause.”
His call quickly resonated with Shiites, who wait on every word from al-Sistani or his representatives. It was instantly used by the militias to tout their legitimacy and flex their muscle on the streets.