Shia militias fighting under the command of the now-official Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) have been hanging their banners and slogans, as well as images of Shia jihadist commanders, on the walls of buildings in eastern Mosul, recently recaptured from Daesh militants.
Citing local Iraqi journalists and news websites, Al Jazeera said that the Iran-backed paramilitary organisation, officially recognised and formalised by the Iraqi government last year, had begun draping their banners and sectarian slogans from the sides of buildings in Mosul.
The move is certain to inflame tensions, particularly as before the start of operations on 17 October 2016, Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi had pledged that the PMF would not enter Mosul itself.
Mosul is a predominantly Sunni Arab city, and other ethnic minorities who live in Iraq’s second city, such as the Kurds, also tend to be from the Sunni sect. Meanwhile, the PMF follow a form of Shia Islamism supported by the Iranian government, who wields vast influence in Iraq.
To make matters worse, Al Jazeera also reported that the Shia jihadists had turned up at Mosul’s Grand Mosque, symbolic of the Sunni city, and started chanting sectarian slogans.
Their actions are nothing new to Iraqis, who have suffered from almost 14 years of sectarian schisms and violence. After Fallujah was retaken from Daesh last summer, Sunni mosques were taken over and the Shia call to prayer was blared out over the mosques’ speakers in order to antagonise and humiliate the Sunni Arab population.
Earlier this month, a video circulating on social media showed newly graduated Iraqi military cadets conducting their formal oath of service not at the military academy as is customary, but at the shrine of a Shia saint in Karbala, deemed a holy city to the Shia.
The video showed the cadets at the Imam Hussein shrine, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson beloved by both Sunnis and Shias, saying that they pledge their allegiance to “our lord and master Imam Hussein” rather than to Iraq.
Shia jihadists in the PMF and other Iran-backed outfits have been accused of committing grave war crimes and violations of human rights against the Sunni population by international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.