By Hayder Sallih
On June 12, 2014, Daesh terrorists massacred at least 1,700 Iraqi Shi’a Air Force cadets outside Tikrit Air Academy, formerly known as Camp Speicher, in northern Iraq in what was described as the worst example of terrorism perpetuated by the dreaded Takfiri terrorist group.
A day after the ghastly incident, on June 13, 2014, a famous call was issued by Iraq’s top religious authority, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, urging Iraqis to take up arms against the Daesh terrorist group.
The fatwa (religious edict) came as the Daesh terrorists were advancing toward the capital Baghdad after seizing the strategically important northern Iraqi towns of Jalulah and Saaiydiyah.
The fatwa marked one of the most significant events in the modern political history of the region and was a turning point in the fight against the transnational terrorist group.
The fatwa, which called on all able-bodied Iraqi citizens to take up arms and confront the growing Daesh threat, drew tremendous response as tens of thousands of people rallied against Daesh.
Daesh in Iraq
The year 2014 was difficult for Iraq amid a series of political, military, security and territorial problems.
In early June 2014, with cross-border support and local sympathizers as well as substantial foreign logistical and financial support, the Daesh terrorist group swept across western and northern Iraq.
The terrorist group captured several major cities like Samarra, Mosul and Tikrit, including surrounding territory, which caused the Iraqi government to lose control of its borders with both Jordan and Syria.
At the time, the country was also plagued by incessant quarrels between various political factions, and the Iraqi military was grappling with widespread corruption, lack of authority and disloyal soldiers.
A well-organized invasion amid internal political chaos led to the swift collapse of the US-trained Iraqi army and the local police in a third of the country's territory.
On June 12, at least 1,700 Iraqi cadets were brutally killed at a military base in Salah al-Din province of Iraq by the Daesh terrorist group, the majority of them Shias.
The chilling footage of the incident showed young cadets falling off the back of trucks before being executed in cold blood at the corner of the Tigris River in Tikrit.
The incident happened when thousands of unarmed Iraqi cadets were training at Camp Speicher, a military base in Salah al-Din Governorate in north-central Iraq.
When news spread that Tikrit had fallen to Daesh, around 3,000 cadets were asked by their seniors to wear civilian clothes, leave the camp, and head home for a 15-day break to be safe.
According to the testimonies of survivors, the cadets were convinced that there was a safe corridor to the capital Baghdad in the south, protected by tribes loyal to the government.
However, on their way, they were caught by terrorist patrols and affiliated armed nomadic tribes.
The terrorist group separated Sunnis from the Shias and non-Muslims and took them to different locations around Tikrit and killed them in the most brutal fashion, as narrated by eyewitnesses.
Some corpses were dumped into mass graves while many others were thrown into the Tigris River.
Ayatollah Sistani fatwa
A day after the Speicher massacre, the bereaved nation was addressed by Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who commands tremendous respect from all sections of Iraqi society.
During a Friday prayer in the holy city of Karbala, the fatwa was issued on his behalf calling on all Iraqi citizens to defend the country, its people, the honor of its citizens, and its holy sites.
“Citizens who are able to bear arms and fight terrorists, defending their country and their people and their holy places, should volunteer and join the security forces to achieve this holy purpose,” Ayatollah Sistani’s representative announced on his behalf during Friday prayers in the holy city of Karbala.
“He who sacrifices for the cause of defending his country and his family and his honor will be a martyr,” he hastened to add.
The obligatory call of standing up and fighting against terrorists was for everyone and not reserved for the followers of particular religion or denomination. It was a call for the Iraqi nation.
Aftermath of fatwa
Ayatollah Sistani’s popular call, broadcast on Iraq’s national television, had a colossal impact as it united the Iraqi nation against the common enemy. As a result, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), also known as Al-hashd al-Sha'bi, was formed on June 15.
Originally composed of seven different Shia factions, the PMU was soon joined by various Sunni, Christian and Yazidi units that had previously operated independently.
Large numbers of men of various ages applied to join these units, up to three million. The newly created formations had a problem with the lack of weapons, which was reduced with the help of Iran.
Islamic Republic of Iran’s military assistance to PMU as well as the leadership of top anti-terror commander, Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was ably assisted by famous Iraqi anti-terror commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, proved critical in the successful fight against the Daesh.
On December 9, 2017, Iraq's then-prime minister Haider al Abadi declared victory over the Daesh.
The role of Ayatollah Sistani's fatwa was critical in this fight and the eventual defeat of Daesh in Iraq.