News / Middle East

Call to Arms Raises Fears of Iraqi Sunni-Shia War

Call to Arms Raises Fears of Iraqi Sunni-Shia Wari
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Henry Ridgwell
June 14, 2014 1:43 AM
Iraq’s most senior Shia cleric has issued a call to arms to worshippers, to defend the country against an advance by the Sunni militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant, or ISIL. ISIL forces have captured large swaths of Iraq’s north and are just tens of kilometers from the capital. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, fears are growing of a Sunni-Shia sectarian war.
Call to Arms Raises Fears of Iraqi Sunni-Shia War
Henry Ridgwell
Iraq’s most senior Shia cleric has issued a call to arms to worshippers, to defend the country against an advance by the Sunni militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant, or ISIL. ISIL forces have captured large swaths of Iraq’s north and are closing in on the capital. Fears are growing of a Sunni-Shia sectarian war.

Iraqi government forces are battling ISIL militants just 80 kilometers from Baghdad.

The speed of the Islamists’ advance has shaken Iraq and its allies.

ISIL draws strength from anti-government feeling among Iraq’s Sunni population, according to Ranj Alaaldin of the London School of Economics.

“They know that in places like Mosul, in Anbar, in the Nineveh province more generally, that they can get local support," said Alaaldin. "That the local community themselves are disenfranchised or they feel alienated by the central government in Baghdad, the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad.”

 
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
 
  • Formed by members of al-Qaida-linked groups in Syria and Iraq
  • Aims to establish an Islamic emirate across Syria and Iraq
  • Led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, former leader of al-Qaida in Iraq
  • Believed to have 5,000 to 7,000 fighters
  • Has launched high-profile attacks in both countries
Thousands of civilians - mainly Shias - are arriving at recruitment centers in Baghdad to volunteer to fight the militants.

Iraq’s most revered Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a call to arms Friday. His spokesman, Sheikh Abdul-Mahdi Al Karbalaie, delivered the message.

The sheikh said “We call on all citizens who can carry weapons and fight the terrorists in defense of their country, its people and its holy sites to volunteer and join the security forces to fulfill this sacred goal.”

Professor Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute in London said Iraq’s Sunni-Shia divide threatens to erupt into civil war.

“If it is entirely seen as a Shia counteroffensive against the Sunnis, that could end up strengthening actually ISIS’s control. And it could end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy of dividing the country,” said Eyal.

 
Iraq cities: Mosul, Tikrit, Beiji, Kirkuk, Karbala, Fallujah, BaghdadIraq cities: Mosul, Tikrit, Beiji, Kirkuk, Karbala, Fallujah, Baghdad
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Iraq cities: Mosul, Tikrit, Beiji, Kirkuk, Karbala, Fallujah, Baghdad
Iraq cities: Mosul, Tikrit, Beiji, Kirkuk, Karbala, Fallujah, Baghdad
A return to the darkest days of sectarian bloodshed would provide a fertile recruiting ground for extremist groups like ISIL, said Alaaldin of LSE.
                         
“I don’t think they can take Baghdad in the same way they did Mosul. What they might try to do instead is to trigger a civil war, create the kind of instability we saw in ’06 and ’07. The only difference is this time round, the Americans aren’t there,” said Alaaldin.

United States and coalition troops withdrew from Iraq in late 2011. Washington has not ruled out a military response to the ISIL advance. But the West is highly unlikely to get deeply involved in any conflict in Iraq or Syria, according to Shiraz Maher of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at Kings College London.

“Not least because there is a lack of political will and public opinion that won’t support it. So essentially what you have is two failed states [Iraq and Syria], in which you have these completely ungoverned spaces and right now the jihadists are holding them. Who’s going to change that balance of power?” asked Maher.

Analysts say ISIL’s offensive once more has laid bare the bitter sectarian fault lines of Iraq. They fear that the very future of the Iraqi state is uncertain.
 
  • Iraqi Shiite tribal leaders chant slogans against the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in Baghdad, June. 13, 2014. 
  • People clean a street now under militant control, in the northern city of Mosul, June 13, 2014. 
     
  • Members of Iraqi security forces stand guard during an intensive security deployment in Kerbala, southwest of Baghdad, June 13, 2014. 
  • Volunteers who have joined the Iraqi Army to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants gesture from an army truck, Baghdad, June 13, 2014. 
  • A volunteer waits to register to join the Iraqi army. The volunteers want to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants who have taken over Mosul and other northern provinces, Diwaniya province, June 12, 2014. 
  • Sunni Islamist militants gained more ground in Iraq overnight, moving into two towns in the eastern province of Diyala, while U.S. President Barack Obama considered military strikes to halt their advance towards Baghdad. Seen here are members of Iraqi security forces chanting slogans, Baghdad, June 13, 2014.
  • Volunteers who have joined the Iraqi Army to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants chant slogans, Baghdad, June 13, 2014.

     
  • Members of the Kurdish security forces take part in an intensive security deployment on the outskirts of Kirkuk, June 12, 2014.

     

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Kiri from: Khmer Kingdom
June 14, 2014 8:36 AM
This chaos has been long expected as mistrust and unresolved religious issue run deep between both Islamic sect and of course the wonderful job USA politician n inteligence agency have made all this to happened.Take the devil out let Satan loose.Iraq,Syria in no longer a peacefull n beautiful nation and cradle of civilization but a mankind graveyard and in someway other nation will be effected.US definatelly in this people agenda.

by: ali baba from: new york
June 14, 2014 6:40 AM
If they want to fight each other.it is their business. Us should not go in the middle of it. .

by: Shaw from: Mauritius
June 14, 2014 12:15 AM
While viewing the coming war, we can not think about the origin of the war, we can not think about the previous Iraq, we can not think about those citizenes in the War. The war shall not invove citizenes in by the excuse of religious.

by: Daves Not Here from: USA
June 13, 2014 11:25 PM
Do nothing. Let this war play out. The best thing we can do is stop interfering.
If they get too spooky... Bomb them from orbit.
Oh and our war dead.. died for nothing... face reality.
WMDuped.
In Response

by: Kiri from: Khmer Kingdom
June 14, 2014 8:46 AM
Dave not here,Your govt.cant effort to do nothing,they have to do something as they have open the pandora box for all this unfortunate thing to happen.Your govt.have manage to take out the djin but let satan loose.In one way or the other Islamic arm group always have US in their agenda for whatever your govt have cause
Your young man n women have always fight for scholarship from military and die forthe biz community to prosper.

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