Der Spiegel reports: A man lifts his camera and stretches. For a moment he is no longer protected by the wall — but it’s one moment too long. A bullet strikes him in the side and passes through his chest. Hussein Fadhil Hassan, 22, the cameraman for the Shiite militia League of the Righteous, is killed immediately, hit by a sniper with the Islamic State (IS), somewhere in the ruins on the southern edge of the city of Baiji in Iraq. The bullet is fired from a distance of more than 100 meters (330 feet).
At the same time his commander, Rasan, is getting ready to head for the front line in this offensive against IS, which the Shiite militia has been fighting here for the last day and a half. Rasan is wearing a blood-spattered T-shirt and has a bandage over his ear, after being grazed by shrapnel a short time earlier. When the commander and his men leave their command post in an abandoned house, they don’t know that their cameraman, who was with the unit for three years, has just been killed — and that he will not be the unit’s only casualty on this day.
There is a huge, detailed map of the city of Baiji lying in the command post. Colored crosses mark the positions of IS and the League of the Righteous, or Asaib Ahl al-Haq in Arabic. Their fighters have advanced a few blocks from the south since the previous day, along a two-kilometer line. The Hezbollah Brigades aligned with them — not to be confused with Hezbollah in Lebanon — have advanced from the north. Iraqi Army units are not involved in the fighting.
Ever since the army was repeatedly overrun by the jihadists in their lightning advances early last year, this war has been waged primarily by the Shiite militias, which were for the most part established after the US invasion in 2003 and are primarily funded by Iran. So it is unclear who is in command of this war. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is pushing for American air support, which the militias oppose, because they fought against US troops for years and view them as their enemy? Or Hadi al-Ameri, the Iraqi commander, appointed by no one, of the umbrella organization of about 40 militia groups? Or Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, who is bringing arms and military assistance into the country and poses for photographers on Iraq’s battlefields like a victorious military leader? [Continue reading…]