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Shiite volunteers mobilize behind Iraqi religious leader

KARBALA -- Iraq's government forces are trying to show they're on the offensive against ISIS insurgents. But there is no denying that they are increasingly relying on Shiite volunteers, who answered a call to jihad by the country's top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani.

CBS News visited the holy Shiite city of Kerbala where that order, or fatwa, was issued. Security is tight in the city because it hosts two shrines that are some of the holiest in Shi'a Islam. In this time of renewed sectarian violence that makes them targets, and ISIS has vowed to destroy them.

"The fatwa was for all Iraqi people to defend their cities against militants," said Sayyed Afdul Al Shamey, an aide to Sistani, when asked if he is preparing for civil war in Iraq.

"They don't differentiate between sects or religions. Anyone who doesn't agree with them, they kill him," he said of the ISIS insurgents.

Al Shamey believes Iraq is in more danger than at any time since 2003, and he said that America has already waited too long to help.

"They should have helped when the fighters came to Mosul," he said. "But now that they've spread all over."

As for what Sistani and his aides think of Prime Minister Maliki, some of Sistani's recent statements have been interpreted as veiled criticism of Maliki. He has talked about the importance of forming a new government to "remedy the mistakes of the past."

But this aide would not be drawn into a conversation on that. He said it is the people's choice.

  • Clarissa Ward

    Foreign Correspondent, CBS News