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A ‘martyr’ sniper becomes a hero to Iraq’s Shiites

Hamza Hendawi and Sinan Salaheddin write for AP:

Ali Jayad al-Salhi, a veteran sniper in an Iraqi militia, was killed in fighting with the Islamic State group earlier this year. He was then vaulted into legend, virtually becoming a new saint for the Shiite community.

Posters of al-Salhi adorn storefronts, homes and car windows in his home city of Basra and other Shiite areas. One bakery even sells cakes with his face. Poems praise his valor and piety. His rifle, with which he's said to have killed nearly 400 IS militants, is now in a museum in the holiest Shiite city, Karbala.

The fervor surrounding him points to the near messianic mystique that has grown up around Iraq's Shiite militias in tandem with their increasing political and military might after they helped defeat the Islamic State group. Known as the "Popular Mobilization Forces" or "Hashed" in Arabic, the militias — many of them backed by Iran — have emerged from the war with an image among Iraq's Shiite majority as virtually a holy force. The popular aura further buttresses the Hashed as it stands poised to play a major role in post-IS Iraq.

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