Without saying a word, a pro-Shia militant group has asserted that Shia groups are the soldiers of Imam Ali, the most important figure in Shia Islam after the Prophet Muhammad himself. A posting to an Iraqi Shia militant web forum shows footage of the “Great Lion” Aslan, the central character from the 2005 Walt Disney Movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (based on the 1950 C.S. Lewis book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), side-by-side with logos of two militant Shia groups, Kata’ib Hizbollah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq. It’s ironic that the creator chose Aslan to represent the Imam Ali, as The Chronicles of Narnia contain a significant amount of Christian symbolism and parallels to Christian scripture. In fact, the Aslan character is thought by some to represent Jesus Christ. Regardless, by combining the images of Aslan the Lion with the logos of these two groups, the creator of the graphic is declaring them soldiers of the Imam Ali, as fierce and dangerous to their enemies as he. Further, the creator is saying that primary mission of these militant groups, defeating the US military in Iraq, is a holy one blessed by Imam Ali himself.
The lion has special significance in Shia Islam because of its association with the Imam Ali. During his lifetime, Imam Ali was given the nickname of “Haydar,” meaning “Lion,” and was often referred to as “The Lion” or “The Lion of Allah.” Because of this association, Imam Ali is often accompanied by a lion in graphical representations, or depicted as a lion himself. Shia militant groups in Iraq, like Kata’ib Hizbollah, and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq, frequently refer to their fighters as “the Lions of the Shia Islamic Resistance.” Two of the most notorious Shia militant groups in Iraq, Kata’ib Hizbollah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq are suspected of being offshoots of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, which was officially disbanded by the Shia cleric in 2008. Both groups are thought to have received support from Iran and/or the Lebanese terrorist group Hizbollah and have conducted attacks against US military forces in Iraq. Kata’ib Hizbollah has even been officially designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US State Department.
Iraqi Sunni insurgent groups occasionally compare their fighters to lions as well. For example, when a group like the Islamic State of Iraq claims to have conducted a suicide bombing attack, they may claim responsibility with a reference to the lion, saying that the attack was carried out by the “brave Lions of the Islamic State of Iraq.” However, when Sunni groups make such claims, their comparisons lack the religious significance that they hold for Shia groups. The Sunni comparison comes as a reference to the lion’s ferocity, strength, and reputation as a top predator, not as an association with a holy figure.
The association between Imam Ali and the lion is so strong that it often appears in popular culture. For example, in this YouTube video, footage of an actor portraying Imam Ali on horseback chasing down an enemy is interspersed with footage of a lion chasing down another animal. In another example, a clever and entrepreneurial group of artists has designed a T-shirt for sale online showing a lion with facial features represented by intricate Arabic calligraphy, to include the word “Ali” in the center of his face.
Yet another example of this association permeating popular culture is a common Iraqi joke. Intended as a commentary on the current state of Sunni vs. Shia sectarian violence in Iraq today, this joke is a bit of gallows humor that further demonstrates the strong connection that Shia Muslims make between Imam Ali and lions:
An Iraqi lion arrives in the United States to apply for asylum. When immigration officials ask the lion for his reason for requesting asylum, he shows them a picture of Imam Ali with a lion.
“You see?” says the lion,“the Sunnis are after me because they have seen pictures of me with Imam Ali!”
 The names of these two groups are translated as “The Hizbollah Brigades in Iraq” and “The League of Righteous People.”
 The Islamic State of Iraq is a political front organization used by the terrorist group Al-Qaeda in Iraq to issue public statements on behalf of the group.