QAIM, Iraq — A fighter from the Kataib al-Imam Ali holds up a photo of himself from his time as a competitive weightlifter, thick veins protruding from his muscular and oiled body. Another fighter scrolls through photos of his young children. Yet another fighter amicably but unexpectedly shoves his phone in front of this correspondent while he is on a Skype call with a friend who is at the shrine of Sayyida Zeinab in Damascus.
The Kataib al-Imam Ali is a nonlocal force within the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). It has been criticized in previous years for its brutal methods. In early April, fighters from the brigade crossed into the area of Husaybah in the Sunni-majority Iraqi border city of Qaim to speak to Al-Monitor.