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Jun-13-2014 07:30printcomments

Iraq on The Brink of Bloody Civil War; No Word Yet on U.S. Airstrikes

Any push by the ISIS south towards Baghdad, however, is likely to face significant resistance as it has a much larger Shia population.

ISIS troops march towards Baghdad
ISIS troops march towards Baghdad, in what could lead up to a bloody Civil War in the country. Photo Courtesy: AAWSAT.net

(BAGHDAD, Iraq) - Leading Shi’ite cleric Grand ­Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on Iraqis to take up arms against Sunni extremists as thousands volunteered to bolster the capital’s defenses.

“Citizens who are able to bear arms and fight terrorists, defending their country and their people and their holy places, should volunteer and join the security forces to achieve this holy purpose,” Mr Sistani’s representative announced on his behalf during the main weekly prayers in the Shi’ite shrine city of Karbala.

“He who sacrifices for the cause of defending his country and his family and his honour will be a martyr.’’

The deteriorating situation in the key global oil supplier reverberated through financial markets yesterday, sending oil prices sharply higher, pushing US stocks lower and igniting the latest rally in safe-haven bonds.

On the ground, U.S. armed and trained Iraqi security forces put up almost no fight throughout the militants’ rout as they captured major cities, witnesses said.

Iraq’s government girded to protect the capital from advancing insurgents, as Iranian security officials said their forces had joined the battle on Baghdad’s side and the US weighed military assistance, including air strikes.

Initially, after security forces fled, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ­appeared paralysed but yesterday it launched a counteroffensive of air strikes on ISIS targets.

ISIS is a Sunni extremist group and most of the territory it captured this week in the north of Iraq is predominantly Sunni.

Any push south towards Baghdad, however, is likely to face significant resistance as it has a much larger Shia population.

ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani vowed its fighters would press on to the capital and, further south, to the Shia shrine city of Karbala, visited each year by millions of pilgrims from around the world.

Iraqi state TV yesterday broadcast video of civilians enlisting for basic training to join militias to fight ISIS.

Meanwhile, ISIS militants released video of themselves in Tikrit parading captured and blindfolded security forces and with captured US Humvee military vehicles.

In the video, some of the security forces were hunched over and were being hit as they walked.

ISIS claimed responsibility for three attacks in Baghdad, including a suicide bombing and a car-bombing, which killed 30 people.

The advance allowed Iraqi Kurds to take control of a swath of disputed territory, including the city of Kirkuk that Baghdad has long stopped them adding to their autonomous ­region in the north.

Under attack from his Republican opponents, US President ­Barack Obama said his national security team was considering Washington’s response and “I don’t rule out anything”.

“We do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria,” he said.

Reflecting US concern that Mr Maliki has failed to include Sunni and Kurdish representatives in his government, Mr Obama said this week’s events should be “a wake-up call for the Iraqi government”.

Washington reaffirmed that it would not redeploy ground troops to Iraq. US combat forces left Iraq in 2011 after an eight-year ­occupation.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “Our team is working overtime on a range of options. That does not include, to be clear, boots on the ground.”

Meanwhile, neighbouring Iran vowed to help the Maliki regime — both are Shia — but did not specify what form that help would take.

Iran’s President Hassan Rowhani described ISIS as “an extremist terrorist group that is acting savagely”.

Mr Rowhani denounced ISIS as an Islamic group. “Unfortunately, they name themselves Muslim and brand their way as jihad, and say they are implementing the way of Koran and Islam.”

ISIS now controls three major cities: in January it captured Falluja, and has repelled efforts by the government to retake it, and this week took Mosul and Tikrit.

The international oil price rose to $US113 ($120) a barrel, the highest price for three months.

Analysts did not yet regard the situation as critical as most of Iraq’s oil refineries are in the south which, for now, is unaffected.

Source: Sky News With Additional Reporting From The Wall Street Journal, and other news agencies

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