Sadr’s ‘Peace Brigades’ prepares for Mosul offensive

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Muqtada al Sadr, the radical Shia cleric who battled US forces during the Iraqi occupation, is preparing his militia to participate in an offensive to retake the northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State. The US military is preparing to aid the Iraqi government in liberating Mosul, but has insisted that the operation will not include the Shia militias.

Two recent statements on the website of Saraya al Salam, or the Peace Brigades, Sadr’s official militia, said that “preparations are underway” to participate in the fight to wrest Mosul from the grip of the Islamic State. Mosul, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Iraq, fell to the jihadist organization along with much of northern, central, and western Iraq after the Iraqi military was routed in June 2014.

In one statement, Haj Abu al-Issawi, an “aide to jihadist leader Mr. Muqtada al Sadr,” said that the militia has been told to “get ready for the battle of Mosul,” and that “preparations are underway,” according to a translation by The Long War Journal. The leadership of Saraya al Salam is reviewing and evaluating the militia’s “intervention, engineering, and support forces” that would take part in an operation to liberate Mosul.

In a second statement, Saraya al Salam said that its “Third Division” held a parade in Najaf and is ready “to participate in the liberation of Mosul.” The division commander and “a number of leaders and Associate Director of the Martyr al-Sadr’s office” were in attendance.

A number of photos from the parade in Najaf were displayed in both statements. Saraya al Salam’s banner is prominent in many of the photographs, which include snipers and fighters mounted on trucks.

The participation of the Shia militias in Iraqi military operations feeds the Islamic State’s propaganda and aids its recruiting. The Islamic State tells Sunnis that the Iraqi government is a pawn of the Iranians. The presence of organized Iranian-backed Shia militias in military operations in Sunni areas supports the Islamic State’s narrative.

Saraya al Salam reports to the Popular Mobilization Force (PMF, also known as the Popular Mobilization Unit or Committee), which was created in June 2014 after the Islamic State overran large areas of Iraq. The unit was established with the approval of the Iraqi government, and is comprised of various militias. The paramilitary organization is dominated by Iranian-backed Shiite militias such as Hezbollah Brigades, Asaib al Haq (League of the Righteous), Harakat Nujaba (Movement of the Noble), Saraya Khorasani (Khorasan Brigades), the Imam Ali Brigades, and the Badr Organization.

All of these groups remain hostile towards the US. Many of these groups are led by men who are listed by the US as global terrorists, and one, Hezbollah Brigades, is a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Two of the groups, Harakat Nujaba and Saraya al Salam, have threatened to attack US interests within the past year. One of the militia leaders even said he would overthrow Iraqi’s government if ordered to do so by Iran’s “supreme leader.”

The deputy commander and operational leader of the PMF is Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, a former officer in the Badr Organization who was listed by the US government as a specially designated global terrorist in July 2009 and was described as “an advisor to” Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani. Qods Force is Iran’s external special operations branch that is, among other things, responsible for establishing, training, funding, advising, and at times, commanding Shiite militias in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

The PMF has been instrumental in liberating the Iraqi cities of Tikrit and Baiji as well as other towns from the Islamic State. Soleimani, the Qods Force commander, was directly involved in those operations and has been spotted on multiple battlefields in Iraq.

The US military has aided the Iraqi military, and by default the Iranian-backed militias, in retaking Bajii, Tikrit, and other cities and towns with airstrikes and other combat support. US military commanders have denied that “extremist elements” have participated in the operations, instead claiming that the PMF, which it considers to be moderate, is supported by the Iraqi government and thus a moderate force inside Iraq. But the makeup of the PMF suggests otherwise.

Images from Saraya al Salam’s “Third Division” parade in Najaf

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Sadr-Peace Bridages-parade-Mosul-11

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Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Paddy Singh says:

    The US is in no position to dictate who should fight for the liberation of Iraqi cities. They have to accept whatever and whoever is willing to help, when they refuse to commit their boots on the ground. They messed up in Iraq and know it.

  • Mark Finn says:

    Sadr will be no match for al-Baghdadi

  • Bosniarat says:

    So I guess the Idea they wont use kids is out of the question as you can see in the sixth Picture.
    One of the Major questions I have is this; what are we going to do when all these Iranian Backed Militias/ IRGC start attacking the Kurds? As the Northern part of the City is controlled by the Kurds. The Basij/ Iranian Government has no love for the Kurds and has done everything it could to destroy the Kurds in Iran. If the IA goes after ISIS in Mosul, I think we are going to find a very odd problem with supporting the fight for Mosul, as we will be doing about 70 to 90% of the Bombing Runs, due to the Mass amount of Regular Iranian and Iranian Jihadi Forces in the Area fighting along side the IA and by themselves.
    The Second Major question is, Are they ready? Mosul, like Raqqa, has been under control of ISIS for over 3 years. As the Kurds found in Sinjar, ISIS had constructed Medium to Large Tunnels to mask troop movements in the City, thus allowing Troops and equipment to pass with little or no knowledge from Intel of what was in or left in the city. Mosul could be a rats nest of Heavy fighting with Street combat being augmented with the inclusion of rapid withdraws as well as rapid Reinforcement. I highly doubt any thought of this has gone into planning.

  • Pat says:

    Maybe we should saturation bomb any Shiite militia groups if they attack Mosul.

  • Buzz says:

    iranian backed muqtada al sadr should have been taken out back in 2004 when the US and their allies had the opportunity. To call him a “cleric” is an oxymoron,he has always been a war lord, he continues to use the US for his own personal gains, time for a “new vacuum” in Iraq,time for the “cleric” to GO !!!!

  • Matt says:

    We got word he had moved from Qum to Iraq, be we killed his brother in law by mistake. They all look the same. Then Gates took him off the hit list to broker a deal with the Madi Army, to lay down arms. So that was that. The VP had to tell the death squad to leave it.

    But the US should be bring the Kurds to fault lines either. But the weakness of the Iraqi army. Means the Shiite militia are needed. After all how do you think they can operate the M1 the were the Iraqi army. But have gone back to their militias. Who did you think planted the IED’s and controlled the checkpoints Iraqi army/Shiite militias. They after killing your mates them come to bum a smoke in uniform. The English had guns draw on members of the Mahdi Army they were working with in the Iraqi Army. That is insurgency, that is how it is. That is why PTSD is so high. That is why command buckled and pulled everyone off the line in the Stan due to green on blue. PTSD of command. That is why W always said stay the course, to the enemy. If you want us to leave, it will be on our conditions and it was Iraq was stable at the end of the SOFA. If you want us to leave coming the other way is the wrong way to achieve it. We will stay as long as it takes. And not rule out expanding the war with large ground forces into safehavens.


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