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Shiite militia rename mission to retake Iraqi city of Ramadi

The Shiite militia, who are launching an operation to retake the city of Ramadi, named it “Labyek Ya Hussein” which means “At your service Hussein.” The name does not honor Saddam Hussein of course but Husayn_ibn_Ali the first Imam of Shia Muslims. He is a key and revered figure in Shia Islam. Many felt that the name was too clearly sectarian to be appropriate in an operation to free a largely Sunni city.

The U.S. complained about the name as did many Sunnis in the area. The paramilitaries, called Hashd al_Shaabi, responded by re-branding the operation as “Labyek Ya Iraq” or “At Your Service Iraq.” A spokesperson for the militia, Karim al-Nouri said that the two names had “the same meaning”: “Now we have opted for ‘Iraq’ and there is no problem,” .

Even the Shia cleric and leader Moqtada al-Sadr was critical of the earlier name for the operation. He claimed it was much too sectarian for an operation to rescue their Sunni brothers. Although fiercely anti-American and having spent much time studying in Iran, al-Sadr is a strong Iraqi nationalist who unlike many of his brethern sees it as crucial to develop good relations with the Sunnis if there is ever to be a unified Iraq. He has also been critical of some Shia militia fighters who have taken vengeance on Sunnis when they capture territory For once Al-Sadr agrees with the Americans on an issue, as Pentagon spokesperson Col. Steve Warren expressed disappointment at the operation’s name, claiming it was “unhelpful.”

Map locating Ramadi  the capital of Iraq's Anbar's province

Map locating Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Anbar's province

The Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi no doubt worries having Shiite militias play a key role in liberating Ramadi may create a backlash against the central government dominated by Shias. However, given the poor performance of regular Iraqi forces in defending the city against the Islamic State his choices were quite limited. If the militia are successful this may make them even a stronger power within Iraq and further Iranian influence. However, the Islamic State insurgents are digging in and laying mines on the outskirts of the town. Retaking Ramadi may not be an easy task. Already IS has ambushed and killed six police and tribal fighters east of Ramadi. They also seized a village just 19 miles northwest of Baghdad after ambushing a military convoy and killing eight soldiers. Iraqi troops massing for an offensive in Anbar were hit by devastating suicide attacks.

As more Sunnis are fleeing battle areas such as Ramadi, the humanitarian situation is getting much worse. The sectarian divide and conflict is also increasing as Shiite authorities are restricting where the fleeing Sunnis may go. They fear they may be a security threat. Of those in flight almost 85 per cent are Sunnis and as the Islamic State holds much of the Sunni areas of Iraq, the Sunnis are seeking safety in Shiite controlled areas where they are sometimes not welcomed.

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