A+ A-ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Thursday told Iraqi militia groups to dedicate their lives to serving the people and to respect the chain of command, warning them that their reputation is at stake, hours after a prominent militia leader was released and acquitted of terror-related charges, sparking outrage among Iraq’s protest movement.
“If someone who belongs to you commits an offense, do not support him… And if his general commander tries to punish him or investigate him, then wait for the results of the investigation and do not be hasty in leaving him or defending him, for neither the jihadi nor the resister is above making mistakes or receiving punishment,” Sadr said in a message to the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF or Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic).
“The reputation of the jihadists is at stake, and everyone is responsible for it… Serve your people without discrimination between one race and another or one sect or another,” he added.
PMF leader Qassem Musleh was released on Wednesday after the Supreme Judicial Council said the investigative court did not find any evidence to prove the he was involved in the assassination of a Karbala activist leader, Ihab al-Wazni.
“Qassem Musleh was accused of killing the activist Ihab al-Wazni, but no evidence was presented against him, especially as he proved, according to his passport information, that he was outside Iraq when Wazni was assassinated, and he denied committing or participating in this crime,” the Judicial Council stated, adding that Musleh also did not incite violence against the activist.
Unknown gunmen fatally shot Wazni near his Karbala home in May. In a televised interview with al-Hurra last month, Wazni’s mother said that Musleh threatened to kill her son multiple times.
Musleh’s release was celebrated by the PMF, but condemned by activists who believe the Iraqi government does not have the ability to confront the powerful militias.
Sadr issued a warning to the PMF: “We, the mujahideen were not born for life, nor were we created for chairs, authority and domination. Rather, we were created for the sake of the homeland and the people… No domination, no authority, no chairs, no money, and no fame.”
Musleh was released a day after a top-ranked official from the Iraqi intelligence service was assassinated. The intelligence service was involved in the militia leader’s arrest.
Since the start of the protest movement in October 2019, dozens of activists have been killed and several have been kidnapped and tortured. The killers act with impunity as investigations have yielded few results. Iranian-backed militias affiliated with the PMF, which are under the umbrella of Iraq’s security forces, are widely blamed.