Shi'ite fighters make show of force in Baghdad

2014-06-21 14:23
(Picture: AFP)

(Picture: AFP)

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Baghdad - Thousands of fighters loyal to powerful Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr paraded with weapons in the Sadr City area of north Baghdad Saturday, vowing to fight against a major militant offensive.

The offensive, led by Sunni Arab militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group but involving other organisations as well, has overrun swathes of northern and central Iraq this month.

Iraq's flagging security forces, which were swept aside by the initial offensive but have since at least somewhat recovered, have already been joined by some Shi'ite fighters, and thousands more are ready to take part.

The parade, which was called for by Sadr, began with mud-smeared trucks mounted with tubes for launching rockets.

Then came rank upon rank of fighters, most dressed in camouflage uniforms but some wearing black, armed with weapons including Kalashnikov assault rifles, shotguns, Dragunov sniper rifles, light machineguns and rocket launchers.

Armed guards watched over the parade, most with assault rifles but some carrying heavier weapons.

Some units shouted "Mahdi", the name of the 12th revered Shi’ite imam, every four steps as a cadence as they marched.

One unit chanted the full name "Jaysh al-Mahdi", or "Mahdi Army" - Sadr's officially inactive militia that battled American forces in past years.

Some of the fighters at the lead of units carried Iraqi flags, while others held signs with messages including "We sacrifice for you, oh Iraq," "No, no to terrorism," and "No, no to America".

Fighters interviewed by AFP emphasised that they were not against any specific religious sect, and that their aim was to defend the country.

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