Baghdad - Thousands of fighters loyal to powerful Shi’ite
cleric Moqtada al-Sadr paraded with weapons in the Sadr City area of north
Baghdad Saturday, vowing to fight against a major militant offensive.
The offensive, led by Sunni Arab militants from the
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group but involving other organisations as
well, has overrun swathes of northern and central Iraq this month.
Iraq's flagging security forces, which were swept aside
by the initial offensive but have since at least somewhat recovered, have
already been joined by some Shi'ite fighters, and thousands more are ready to
The parade, which was called for by Sadr, began with
mud-smeared trucks mounted with tubes for launching rockets.
Then came rank upon rank of fighters, most dressed in
camouflage uniforms but some wearing black, armed with weapons including
Kalashnikov assault rifles, shotguns, Dragunov sniper rifles, light machineguns
and rocket launchers.
Armed guards watched over the parade, most with assault
rifles but some carrying heavier weapons.
Some units shouted "Mahdi", the name of the
12th revered Shi’ite imam, every four steps as a cadence as they marched.
One unit chanted the full name "Jaysh
al-Mahdi", or "Mahdi Army" - Sadr's officially inactive militia
that battled American forces in past years.
Some of the fighters at the lead of units carried Iraqi
flags, while others held signs with messages including "We sacrifice for
you, oh Iraq," "No, no to terrorism," and "No, no to
Fighters interviewed by AFP emphasised that they were not
against any specific religious sect, and that their aim was to defend the