US, Shia militias face common enemy

US, Shia militias face common enemy

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Members of Shia militias still see America as the enemy despite being on the same side for now against the advancing Sunni militant group ISIS. (Source: CNN) Members of Shia militias still see America as the enemy despite being on the same side for now against the advancing Sunni militant group ISIS. (Source: CNN)
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BAGHDAD (CNN) - As ISIS advances toward Baghdad, a traditionally anti-American group of fighters may find themselves aligning with U.S. forces to fight a common enemy.

The Mahdi army is on the move.

They've come together to answer the call of their leader, Shia Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. For years he and his army fought pitched battles against American soldiers. On Thursday as the threat from the Sunni extremist group ISIS grows they could find themselves unlikely allies.

A neighborhood on the outskirts of Baghdad is a Shia stronghold, as is much of the Iraqi capital.

On a wall, Moqtada al-Sadr looks down. On the television anti-U.S. films play. One of the commanders says he's just returned from fighting ISIS in Syria alongside another U.S. foe, Hizbullah, along with what are believed to be thousands of other Iraqi Shias.

He's asked that his identity be concealed.

"I fought alongside Iraqi Hizbullah, the Syrian army and Lebanese Hizbullah. And I'm willing to go back. I'll fight here. I'll fight there and anywhere to defend the Shia and what is sacred to us. We're just waiting for our matching orders and at any time we'll emerge. At any place," he said.

There are pictures he took when he was fighting in Syria.

And there is video he says the ISIS fighters took of him and his unit coming under attack in Aleppo, Syria. He and his unit found a memory stick with it - and other videos - on the body of an ISIS militant.

Mahdi army fighter Ali Jaffar was detained by U.S. forces for six months in Najaf during the war. For him the U.S. will always be the enemy.

"The Americans are not here for the sake of the Iraqis. The Americans are here because they have national security interests," he said.

But he also can't deny the reality that faces his country.

"As soon as the order is given to fight we are ready to sacrifice our blood and even our children. Even him, my child, I'm willing to sacrifice him for the nation," he said while sitting next to his son.

As ISIS continues on their fight toward the country's capital, the Mahdi army await al-Sadr's orders. If he says fight they will. Regardless of who fights alongside them, if they want to protect what they hold dear, the enemy of their enemy will have to become a friend, at least for now.

Copyright 2014 CNN. All rights reserved.

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