A crowd of Shi'ite worshipers in the iconic shrine city of Karbala applauded Friday, as senior cleric Abdel Mehdi al Karbalaie, representing Iraq's top Shi'ite spiritual leader Sheikh Ali Sistani, urged Iraqi citizens to volunteer and defend their country against Sunni ISIL militants:
He said that Iraq is going through an extremely critical period....and that it is the patriotic duty of its sons who are able to bear arms to defend their country, their people and their holy sites by volunteering to join the security forces. He also urges Iraqi politicians to put aside their differences and unite in support for the military.
Hundreds of mostly Shi'ite volunteers lined up in front of army recruiting posts in Baghdad and cities to the south and east.
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
Some analysts say that over 90 percent of the Iraqi Army is composed of Shi'ites. Al Arabiya TV reported that many Sunni residents of the northern city of Mosul, now under ISIL control, expressed satisfaction that the government army had left.
Asharqiya TV, which supports the government of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, showed Iraqi Army trucks pushing north from the capital Baghdad Friday, in an urgent bid to stop the advance of ISIL militants.
Some eyewitness reports put the militants just 60 kilometers north of Baghdad, while militants already control Fallujah in Anbar province, 40 kilometers to the west.
Kurdish Pershmerga commander Wafat Raouf said his men were fighting to prevent the ISIL militants from advancing north into Kurdistan, after government forces collapsed:
He says that the security situation was most critical to the south of the disputed oil town of Kirkuk after the Iraqi Army's 12th Brigade collapsed and fled due to low morale.
UN representative in Iraq Nicolay Mladinov said at a press conference that Iraq was facing an extremely grave threat to its existence and that the international community was alarmed by recent developments:
“Iraq now faces the biggest threat to the sovereignty and integrity of this country that it has faced in a number of years. The UN and the Security Council are watching very carefully and with great concern the situation in this country," Mladinov said.
Inside the Iraqi capital Baghdad, some residents were reportedly panicking at the approach of Sunni militants. Grocery stores reported a run on key food items, and gas stations that were open also faced heavy demand.
Iraq's major refinery at Beiji, north of Baghdad, was captured by militants Wednesday. Electricity supplies may also be cut if militants advance further south.