Iraqi cleric calls on Shiites to grab a gun to take on Sunni militants

BAGHDAD -- The streets of Bagdad are eerily empty Friday night. There is a curfew in place, but even during the day few people are going to work and school. Many people are fleeing the country as the security situation deteriorates.

The most revered cleric in Iraq called on every able-bodied Shia Friday to grab a gun.

Answering the call to Jihad, crowds of Shiite men swarmed recruitment centers, ready and eager to take on the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who have captured two major Iraqi cities in as many days.

"We will go to Mosul, God willing, to kill and defeat them," a young volunteer said.

It was a scene being played out across the country as Shia militias mobilized to fill the vacuum left by the rapidly collapsing Iraqi army, with recruiters urging fellow Shia's to protect the sect's holy sites.

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Shiite men
CBS

The call to arms came from Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Sistani who said that protecting Shite shrines is a sacred duty.

ISIS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, has already announced its intention to destroy those shrines as it continues its push toward Baghdad.

In Mosul, Iraq's second biggest city, which fell on Tuesday, militants showed off their newly acquired U.S. equipment, abandoned by the fleeing Iraqi army.

In a statement they announced that they are implementing strict Islamic Sharia law. Women must stay home, cigarettes and alcohol are banned and the hands of thieves will be cut off.

Today the group was fighting in towns just 60 miles from the capital.

Iraq is descending into a sectarian civil war.

The government doesn't appear to have any real strategy other than re-mobilizing these Shiite militias, which only inflame those sectarian tensions.

So far CBS News has seen no evidence that they've tried to find a political solution, trying to reengaged and reintegrate those disenfranchised Sunni leaders who may prove to be valuable partners in fighting ISIS.

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CBS News/ISW

  • Clarissa Ward

    Foreign Correspondent, CBS News

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