Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

June 15, 2014

Thousands of Iraqi men answer urgent call to arms

BAGHDAD — Thousands of Shiites from Baghdad and across southern Iraq answered an urgent call to arms Saturday, joining security forces to fight the Islamic militants who have captured large swaths of territory north of the capital and now imperil a city with a much-revered religious shrine.

The mobilization, urged by the nation’s top Shiite cleric, took on a sectarian dimension that threatened to intensify Sunni-Shiite strife in a nation already ripped by religious fervor after the militants’ battlefield successes.

In Baghdad, fallout from the stunning advance in the north was beginning to affect daily life for the city’s 7 million inhabitants.

Some food prices rose dramatically. Army troops went house-to-house searching for militants and weapons in neighborhoods close to vital government installations. The streets of the capital were quieter than usual, and military and police checkpoints made extra efforts to check cars and passenger IDs.

The price hikes were partly the result of transportation disruptions on the main road linking the capital with provinces to the north, but they might also be a telltale sign of a nervous city.

“We were not prepared for this sudden spike in the prices of foodstuff, vegetables and fuel,” said Yasser Abbas, a government employee from Baghdad’s sprawling eastern Sadr City district.

“I do not know how the poor people in Baghdad will manage their life in the coming days. God be with them until this crisis is over because hunger is as dangerous as bullets.”

As President Barack Obama considers possible military options for Iraq, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush to move from the northern Arabian Sea into the Persian Gulf. The carrier was to be accompanied by two guided-missile ships.

In the meantime, dozens of men climbed into the back of army trucks at volunteer centers, chanting Shiite religious slogans, hoisting assault rifles and pledging to join the nation’s beleaguered security forces to battle the Sunni militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

“By God’s will, we will be victorious.” said one volunteer, Ali Saleh Aziz. “We will not be stopped by the ISIL or any other terrorists.”

The volunteers were first taken to an assembly center in eastern Baghdad, where they were handed military uniforms, and later went to Taji, home of Iraq’s largest military base north of Baghdad, to undergo basic training. State-run television aired footage of the volunteers being drilled, still in their civilian clothes.

The mobilization unfolded against a backdrop of religious and nationalist fervor. State-run television aired a constant flow of nationalist songs, clips of soldiers marching or singing, as well as interviews with troops vowing to crush the militants. Other broadcasts included archival clips of the nation’s top Shiite clerics and aerial shots of Shiite shrines.

Shiite cleric and political leader Ammar al-Hakim was shown on television networks donning camouflaged military fatigues as he spoke to volunteers from his party, although he still wore his clerical black turban that designates him as a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite widely resented by Sunnis for his perceived sectarian policies, denied the call by the Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was directed against Sunnis, saying it was in fact meant to protect the country and its holy shrines.

“Talk of Sunnis and Shiites must be dropped,” he said, calling for the unity of all Iraqis.

Many volunteers, however, said they had enlisted to protect their faith and shrines at risk in the city of Samarra north of Baghdad and elsewhere. The militants have threatened to march all the way south to the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, home to two of the most revered Shiite shrines.

Al-Maliki himself appeared to give the standoff with ISIL a sectarian color, paying a surprise visit to Samarra on Friday and appearing on state-run television while praying there. The shrine was badly damaged in a bombing blamed on Sunni extremists in 2006. That attack sparked a wave of bloodletting between Sunnis and Shiites that lasted two years. The bloodshed ebbed in 2008 after the U.S. troop surge, a revolt by moderate Sunnis against al-Qaida in Iraq and a Shiite militia cease-fire.

The footage seemed clearly aimed at rehabilitating his reputation in the eyes of Shiites as a protector of the faith and its followers. He also declared that Samarra would be the assembly point for the march north to drive out the militants, another apparent religious incentive to Shiites.

On Saturday evening, a dozen armed militiamen got off a bus on a main central Baghdad road and chanted Shiite slogans before driving away.

Fighters from the al-Qaida splinter group, drawing support from former Saddam Hussein-era figures and other disaffected Sunnis, have made dramatic gains in the Sunni heartland north of Baghdad after overrunning Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul on Tuesday. Soldiers and policemen have melted away in the face of the lightning advance, and thousands have fled to the self-ruling Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

On Saturday, insurgents seized the small town of Adeim in Diyala province after Iraqi security forces pulled out, said the head of the municipal council, Mohammed Dhifan. Adeim is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad. There was no official confirmation of the loss of the town.

Jawad al-Bolani, a lawmaker and former Cabinet minister close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said a military offensive was underway Saturday to drive the insurgents from Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown north of Baghdad, although fighting in the area could not be confirmed.

Major-General Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for the Iraqi military’s commander in chief, said Iraq’s armed forces have “regained the initiative” in the north and northeast, blunting ISIL advances and regaining control of some localities.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday that his Shiite nation stands ready to help Iraq if asked, adding that it has “no option but to confront terrorism.”

He said Iran would “study if there is a demand for help from Iraq” but that no specific request for assistance had been made.

Entry of Iranian forces into Iraq “has not been raised so far,” and “it’s unlikely that such conditions will emerge,” he added.

Iran has built close political and economic ties with Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam’s Sunni-led regime.

1
Text Only
National, International News
  • Mideast Iraq_Rich copy.jpg Iraq elects new president amid attacks

    Iraqi lawmakers elected a veteran Kurdish politician on Thursday to replace long-serving Jalal Talabani as the country’s new president in the latest step toward forming a new government. But a series of attacks killed dozens of people and Islamic militants destroyed a Muslim shrine traditionally said to be the burial place of the Prophet Jonah, underscoring the overwhelming challenges facing the divided nation.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hong Kong Shutdown_Rich copy.jpg Hong Kong firms on edge as blockade looms

    As activists vow to shut down Hong Kong’s financial district in protest at China’s attempt to hobble democratic elections in the city, businessman Bernard Chan is preparing for the worst.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mideast Israel Palest_Rich copy.jpg UN school in Gaza caught in cross-fire; 15 killed

    A U.N. school in Gaza crowded with hundreds of Palestinians seeking refuge from fierce fighting came under fire Thursday, killing at least 15 civilians and leaving a sad tableau of blood-spattered pillows, blankets and children’s clothing scattered in the courtyard.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP00072403324 copy.jpg Today in History for Friday, July 25, 2014

    Today is Friday, July 25, the 206th day of 2014. There are 159 days left in the year.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Rebels release train with bodies from downed jet

    Bowing to international pressure, pro-Moscow separatists released a train packed with bodies and handed over the black boxes from the downed Malaysia Airlines plane, four days after it plunged into rebel-held eastern Ukraine.

    July 22, 2014

  • Gaza death toll rises as truce effort intensifies

    A high-level attempt by the U.N. chief and the U.S. secretary of state to end deadly Israel-Hamas fighting was off to a rough start Monday: Gaza’s Hamas rulers signaled they won’t agree to an unconditional cease-fire, Israel’s prime minister said he’ll do whatever is necessary to keep Israelis safe from Hamas attacks and the overall Palestinian death toll surpassed 560.

    July 22, 2014

  • AP110722023493 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, July 22, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, July 22, the 203rd day of 2014. There are 162 days left in the year.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Western Wildfires_Rich copy.jpg Helpful weather coming to Washington wildfires

    Cooler temperatures and lighter winds are forecast to descend on wildfire-stricken Washington state, helping firefighters battle flames that have been growing unfettered for a week and have covered hundreds of square miles.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Today in History for Monday, July 21, 2014

    Today is Monday, July 21, the 202nd day of 2014. There are 163 days left in the year.

    July 21, 2014

  • James Garner Obit_Rich(1) copy.jpg Film, TV legend James Garner, reluctant hero, dies

    Few actors could register disbelief, exasperation or annoyance with more comic subtlety.
    James Garner had a way of widening his eyes while the corner of his mouth sagged ever so slightly. Maybe he would swallow once to further make his point.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

School starts again in about two weeks. What do you think?

It's still summer. School starts too soon.
Seems like the right time to return.
Abolish summer recess. Make school year-round.
     View Results