Iraq Cleric Sadr Criticizes Operation Codename Choice
Influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr on Wednesday criticized the codename given to a military operation in Sunni areas of Iraq, warning that it risked fanning the flames of sectarianism.
The Hashed al-Shaabi, an umbrella for mostly Shiite militias and volunteers, on Tuesday launched an operation aimed at severing the Islamic State jihadist group's supply lines in Anbar province.
They named the offensive, in which regular government forces are also taking part, "Operation Labaik ya Hussein", which roughly translates as "We are at your service, Hussein" and refers to one of Shiite Islam's most revered imams.
"This name is going to be misunderstood, there's no doubt," said Sadr in a statement presented as an answer to a question by a religious student.
"Hussein is a national symbol and a prince of jihad... but we don't want him to be used by the other side to claim this is a sectarian war," he said.
Sadr, whose own paramilitary organization Saraya al-Salam is involved in operations against IS, said names such as "Labaik ya Salaheddin" or "Labaik ya Anbar" would have been more appropriate.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had been reluctant to send the Hashed al-Shaabi to Anbar but was left with little choice because of the poor performance of Iraq's regular forces when IS took Anbar's provincial capital of Ramadi on May 17.
With U.S. backing, he had favored training up local tribal forces to be incorporated in the Hashed, a solution seen as more palatable to the province's overwhelmingly Sunni population.
The Pentagon also expressed its disappointment at the operation's codename, describing it as "unhelpful".
Abadi, who faces criticism from his own camp for reaching out to Iraq's Sunni minority, has yet to comment on the controversy.