Young Londoners proud to be part of Sadr's army
The Guardian: August 12 2004
The two young men sitting cross-legged in a small room off the courtyard of the Imam Ali shrine looked like any of the fighters around them.
Their beards were short and neat, their feet bare and their dress the simple dishdasha, the Arab robe. They were deferential to their militia commander and spoke idealistically of defeating the military might of America in Iraq's holy city of Najaf.
But both were from London, the first Britons known to have joined the Mahdi Army, one of the main fighting groups in the Islamic insurgency that has gripped Iraq since the invasion.
Though the two men were born in Iraq - one in Najaf, the other in Baghdad - their families took them to England as children. They went to school and college in the capital, picked up strong London accents and British passports and finally returned to the country of their birth for the first time on Monday. Their sole aim: to fight a "jihad" with a ragtag Shiite militia loyal to the young preacher Moqtada al-Sadr.
Neither would give his name, but the elder, a confident 23-year-old, used the nom de guerre Abu Haqid (father of fury). He said he had studied English and worked in a supermarket.
The younger, quieter man - his 21-year-old nephew - called himself Abu Turab (father of dust, the connotation of death). He had been studying to be a computer teacher.
The pair, with the support of their families, had travelled secretly into Iraq via a "not legit" route, Abu Haqid said.
They had talked to others in London about coming out to fight. "Some said they would wait and see what happens to us," he said.
At first they were to be trained to use the AK-47 assault rifles that most carry, as well as BKC machine-guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
"They are training us how to use the weapons and how to move quickly when we move," Abu Turab said. "We are going to complete our training and soon we will start fighting."
They said they wanted to come and fight as soon as Iraq was invaded last year. "They were wrong to come to our country. They said they came for chemical weapons and they didn't get permission from the United Nations so they attacked Iraq for no reason," Abu Turab said."It's pride, my friend. It is pride," his uncle said. "If someone wants to step on your head I don't know if it would be accepted in Europe or England."
They planned their trip for months and when Sadr emerged as a powerful leader they decided to volunteer for his force. "[US President George] Bush said 'you are either with us or against us'," Abu Haqid added. "We had to decide either to be with him or against him, and we are against him, definitely."
Both were at pains to point out their disapproval of Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network and insisted their presence in Sadr's militia did not amount to terrorism, because they were fighting uniformed soldiers.
"Bin Laden and his group are totally against our belief, killing innocent civilians," Abu Haqid said. "Killing innocent people we cannot do. That is terrorism, this is defending your country."