Although the militias were credited with saving Baghdad from being overrun by the militant group, many feared a return of the Shiite death squads who engaged in reprisals against Sunnis during the sectarian bloodletting in 2006-07.

Back then, Shiites had a different hero: Abu Deraa, a Shiite paramilitary leader. Abu Deraa’s raids on Sunni neighborhoods and his penchant for drilling holes in the heads of Sunni captives earned him the moniker “the Shiite Zarqawi,” a reference to the Jordanian-born Sunni head of Al Qaeda in Iraq responsible for organizing vicious suicide bombings against Shiites.

Abu Azrael insists that he shuns sectarianism and that he and his comrades in the militias are holy warriors fighting to defend the oppressed against those who “kill and pillage in the name of Muslims.”

“I’m here to talk about terrorism. Any person who embraces Daesh, no matter what his religion may be, I will consider him a terrorist.”