One of the main commanders of the Shia-controlled Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) in Iraq has said that the upcoming operation to retake Mosul from Daesh will be "vengeance and retribution" against Sunnis, sparking fears that sectarian atrocities are being planned against the people of Mosul.
In comments widely perceived as sectarian and calling for violence, Qais Al-Khaz'ali, the leader of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl Al-Haq (AAH) Shia militia which is part of the PMF, said "Allah willing, the liberation of Mosul will be vengeance and retribution against the killers of Hussein."
"This is because these grandsons and from those ancestors [who killed Hussein]," Al-Khaz'ali continued to say.
Hussein bin Ali is the grandson of Islam's Prophet Muhammad who was killed at the Battle of Karbala almost 1,400 years ago by forces loyal to Yazid bin Muawiyyah, Islam's sixth caliph. He is a symbolic and much adored figure by both Sunnis and Shia alike.
Al-Khaz'ali's statement was seen as particularly sectarian as he made it from a pulpit before a religious procession to mark the Muslim religious event of Ashura, marked differently by both Sunnis and Shia.
Whereas Sunnis ordinarily fast on Ashura to give thanks to Allah for saving the Prophet Moses from Pharaoh, some Shias, especially in Iran and Iraq, flagellate and cut themselves in order to mourn the death of Hussein which they blame on Sunni historical figures.
Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for the PMF to be prevented from participating in the imminent operation to retake Mosul, Iraq's second largest city and Daesh's last major urban holding in Iraq.
HRW's statements came after the PMF had once again been caught perpetrating gross human rights abuses that could well be war crimes against the Sunni population in Fallujah. To date, 643 Sunni men who were abducted from Saqlawiyya near Fallujah are still unaccounted for.
The operation to recapture Mosul is widely seen to be beginning later this year, with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi repeatedly stating that he intended to "liberate" Mosul from Daesh control before the end of the year.