BAGHDAD, June 13 (UPI) -- Iraq's most influential Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is urging his followers to take up arms to protect Iraq from the Sunni militants' lightening offensive.
At Friday prayers in Karbala, Sistani's representative, Sheik Abdulmehdi al-Karbalai, delivered a rallying message: "People who are capable of carrying arms and fighting the terrorists in defense of their country... should volunteer to join the security forces to achieve this sacred goal."
The Iraqi security forces could benefit from committed volunteers after being blamed for failing to protect Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, from seizure by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) earlier in the week. The Iraqi forces also reportedly abandoning their posts in Kirkuk, prompting the Kurdish Peshmerga (military) to intervene.
In Samarra, Shia volunteer fighters stepped into protect the city and its religious shrines after most of the Iraqi forces in the area abandoned their posts. Clashes between Shia volunteers and Sunni militants broke out late Friday.