The move was a response to fears that Iraq’s reliance on Shiite paramilitaries to defeat ISIS fighters, instead of the disordered and demoralized national army, could alienate Sunni Iraqis and deepen the region’s sectarian divide.
The U.S. said it was “unhelpful” that the militias had dubbed the operation to retake the western province of Anbar “Labeyk Ya Hussein.” The name translates to “At your service, Hussein,” in honor of one of the most revered figures in Shiite Islam.
The name also provoked complaints from Iraqis in Anbar.
“This is extremely sectarian,” said unemployed resident Salam Ahmed, 41. “We have no more trust in them [the paramilitaries]. They follow a foreign, Iranian agenda.”
State TV said the paramilitaries had renamed the campaign “Labeyk Ya Iraq” (At Your Service Iraq) Wednesday. A spokesman for the paramilitary groups, known as the Popular Mobilization units, said both names had “the same meaning.”
“Now we have opted for ‘Iraq’ and there is no problem,” Karim al-Nouri said.
Influential Shiite sheikh Moqtada Sadr also criticized the original codename, warning that it risked fanning the flames of sectarianism.
“This name is going to be misunderstood, there’s no doubt,” said Sadr as an answer to a question by a religious student.
“Hussein is a national symbol and a prince of jihad … but we don’t want him to be used by the other side to claim this is a sectarian war.”