Are Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units heroes or villains?
In September 2014, Ahmed al-Khafaji enlisted at the age of 25 in the Popular Mobilization Units, which were formed in accordance with a religious fatwa issued in June 2014 by the Shiite religious authority in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, with the aim of fighting the Islamic State (IS) following its invasion of the city of Mosul that month.
Arab and Iraqi Sunni parties claimed the fatwa incited Shiites to commit violence against Sunnis.
After Khafaji spent a few weeks learning how to use weapons in a training center in Babylon, 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Baghdad, he participated in the liberation of Jurf al-Sakhar city, south of Baghdad, in October and suffered an injury to his left shoulder.
Khafaji received a couple of friends in a small room of a rural house located on the outskirts of the city of Hilla in Babil province. The house lacked the most basic essentials — including ventilation, furniture and cold water — at a time when the temperature was around 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).
As he pointed his finger to the picture of Sistani hanging on the wall, he told Al-Monitor, “I fight to defend the nation and heed the call of this man who saved Iraq from falling into the hands of IS terrorists.”
Skimming through pictures of himself with his fellow fighters, Khafaji added, “I fought as a volunteer and did not wait for any financial reward. I practically have not received my salary for two months, but this will not prevent me from returning to the battlefronts as soon as I recover.”