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Abbas Combat Division, an example of Iran-independent faction

The Al-Abbas Combat Division, which is part of the Popular Mobilization Units, has no link with Iran and has a long history of cooperation with the Iraqi army and the US-led coalition against Islamic State.

Along the 220-kilometer (137-mile) main road from Karbala to the border with Saudi Arabia there is a vast open desert that also extends to Syria and Jordan. While some of the checkpoints on the road are manned by the Iraqi army or police, most are controlled by a Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) group known as the Al-Abbas Combat Division. The organization is funded and politically backed by the custodian of the shrine of Imam Al-Abbas, Sayyed Ahmed al-Safi, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s representative in Karbala.

Every few kilometers, the flag of the group could be seen at a checkpoint, along with a group of fighters with military-style clothing. Sajjad, a fighter at the al-Nukhaib crossroad, 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the Saudi border, said he had chosen to fight and sacrifice his life for Al-Abbas ibn Ali, who was killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680. Al-Abbas ibn Ali was the son of Shiite Islam's first imam, Ali ibn Abi Talib. Sajjad said his commitment to the Al-Abbas Combat Division is a commitment to the maraji, the senior Shiite clergy headed by Sistani. The fighter indicated that he wanted to fight for Iraq, and that with this faction he is not linked to any outside, foreign agenda.

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