Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a fatwa on June 13, 2014, encouraging Iraqis to take up arms to defend “their country and their people and their holy places” as well as join the security forces.
This fatwa, known as the “righteous jihad fatwa,” came after the Islamic State (IS) occupation of Mosul, Salahuddin, Anbar, Diyala and Kirkuk and its threats to occupy Karbala, Najaf and Baghdad, and was a major turning point in the war.
In response to the fatwa, hundreds of thousands of youths, particularly in the Shiite areas, have answered the call of duty. Subsequently, on June 15, the Iraqi government declared the establishment of the all-volunteer popular mobilization forces.
Since then, the organization, which Shiite factions have joined, has managed to liberate many of the IS-controlled areas in southern Baghdad, Diyala and Salahuddin.
The relationship between the Najaf religious authority, headed by Sistani, and the popular mobilization forces is not a direct one.
Sistani has not dealt with the popular mobilization forces as the product or subordinate of the religious authority. After the fall of the Iraqi army to IS, Sistani asked volunteers to join the forces, which were under the state’s control.
Hundreds of units trained in weapons joined these forces, as did political parties. Sistani saw that the citizens of regions occupied by IS are fighting for their regions and themselves.
Sistani did not limit his fatwa, discourse and recommendations to Iraq’s Shiites. Rather, he insisted on characterizing the forces as a national body involving all social groups, from the moment the fatwa was issued. Thus, his words reached a wider national horizon unifying all sects, as Shiite, Sunni and Christian volunteers joined the Iraqi popular mobilization forces in the fight against IS.
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