Notoriously reluctant to involve himself in security affairs, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the top Shi’ite religious leader in Iraq, has issued a call to arms today, urging everyone who is able to do so to take up arms and fight the advancing al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).An excerpt from, "Iraq unraveling as top Shiite cleric issues call to arms" by Mitchell Prothero, McClatchy, June 13, 2014:
Sistani’s unprecedented call has seen considerable response already, as volunteers are loaded into trucks and sent northward, toward the AQI front. The Iraqi Army, by contrast, continues to drop its weapons and flee whenever approached.
Perhaps most telling was Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani’s religious endorsement of Shiite men taking up arms to defend “their homes, their cities and their holy places” from the Sunnis. Previously, Sistani had rejected militia activities and urged support for the central government, even during the darkest days of the 2006-08 sectarian war.An excerpt from, "Call to arms a reminder of the power of Iraq’s Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani" by Abigail Hauslohner, The Washington Post, June 13, 2014:
A Shiite resident of Baghdad, who asked to be called Abu Zeinab, said his neighborhood near the Shiite Shrine of Khadam in the neighborhood of Khadamiya was filled with volunteers after Sistani’s decree became known.
“The statement by the marja, Sistani,” he said, using an Arabic term of respect that loosely means “object of emulation,” “has changed everything now. It says we should fight as Shiites to protect Shiites. I think this means there is no Iraqi state now.”
His words Friday marked a radical departure for a man who has played a powerful hand in shaping Iraqi politics, but has typically urged Iraqi Shiites to resist provocation to sectarian bloodshed.
And as the most powerful religious authority in Iraq, Sistani’s words were likely to find support among the country’s Shiites and political leaders, who are desperate to hold on to power and have a fleet of well-trained Shiite militias ready to act.