Among the Iraqi forces fighting against ISIS has arisen a new symbol of hope: Abu Azrael, meaning the “Angel of Death”, immediately recognizable for his thick beard and fearsome axe he wields. Back in June, Azrael joined up to fight ISIS in Iraq. He has become the poster boy of the Imam Ali Brigade, an Iraqi Shi’a militia group backed by the Iranian government. Rumors about the 40 year-old abound, and his past is murky at best. Some say that he was previously Iraq’s national Taekwondo champion, while others say that he used to be a university professor. Some have speculated that the “Angel of Death” even possesses supernatural fighting abilities. Reports claim that Azrael is the father of five, and when not on the battlefield he lives an “ordinary life”.
Much like his rivals ISIS, Azrael has proven adept at utilizing social media; his fan page on Facebook already has over 300,000 likes. Pictures show him kitted out in his military clothing, posing with a heavy machine gun and the axe that has become his signature weapon. Other photos reveal him carrying a large sword wandering through the battlefield. A true social media nut, he’s also quite fond of selfies, and loves to post short videos of him and his comrades relaxing after battles. Well-known for his sense of humor, one video shows Azrael using a captured ISIS walkie-talkie to taunt the militants. He’s also been seen desecrating the corpses of dead ISIS militants, and has declared that he will turn ISIS members “into slurpees”.
Abu Azrael is currently alongside his militia unit the Imam Ali Brigade, who is working alongside the Iraqi army to recapture the city of Tikrit. His arrival in the city has met with huge amounts of enthusiasm from other Iraqi militias, who appear confident that they can get rid of ISIS.
The story of Abu Azrael reminds me of one World War II commander, “Mad Jack” Churchill (no relation to Winston). Churchill was known to say that “any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed”, and even in World War II went into battle with a Scottish broadsword. He was once credited with capturing 42 Germans and a mortar squad in the middle of the night with nothing but his sword. Mad Jack also holds the unique honor of being the only soldier in World War II to kill anybody with a longbow. He was captured by the Germans twice, escaping both times. After he was picked up by the Americans and sent to Britain, he demanded to be sent back into the battlefield, only to find out that the war had ended while he was on his way back to Britain, much to his chagrin. Whether or not Azrael is destined to become the Iraqi Mad Jack isn’t clear yet, but it seems that he’s very much on the way.