Shia militiamen amass west of Daesh-held Mosul

– Move sparks fears of sectarian tension, conflict in ethnically-diverse city

– Thousands of Hashd al-Shaabi (popular mobilization) militiamen have amassed to the west of Mosul amid preparations to help retake the city from the Daesh terrorist group, a Hashd al-Shaabi leader announced Tuesday, according to Anadolu Agency.

Jawad al-Talebawi, a spokesman for the Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a militant faction within the Hashd al-Shaabi, told Anadolu Agency that the group was preparing to launch “a major operation to free the Tel Afar district [west of Mosul] from Daesh and cut the road linking the city to Syria”.

“We’re ready,” al-Talebawi said. “We’re just waiting for the Hashd al-Shaabi leadership to give the go-ahead.”

Established in 2014, the Hashd al-Shaabi is an umbrella group of pro-government Shia militias drawn up specifically to fight Daesh.

According to al-Talebawi, the Hashd al-Shaabi leadership has specifically tasked the Asaib Ahl al-Haq with recapturing the Tel Afar district.

Most Sunni forces participating in the campaign to free Mosul do not want the Shia Hashd al-Shaabi to play any role in the operation, fearing such a move could lead to sectarian tension — and possibly conflict — in the ethnically diverse city.

One week ago, Iraqi forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, launched a much-anticipated offensive to retake Mosul.

Daesh’s last stronghold in northern Iraq, Mosul — Iraq’s second largest city — was overrun by the terrorist group in mid-2014.