Iraq sending 4,000 volunteers to help in Ramadi
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq is airlifting some 4,000 volunteers to an embattled city west of Baghdad to help bolster government forces locked in a running battle with Sunni militants there, authorities said Saturday.
Around 2,500 of the volunteers arrived in Ramadi, located 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of the capital, on Friday and are to be joined by the remaining 1,500 on Saturday, said Gen. Rasheed Flayeh, the commander of operations in Anbar province. The men are being ferried out to Ramadi from Baghdad by helicopter, he added.
The vast majority of volunteers are Shiites who have answered a call from the country’s top Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to defend Iraq from the militants who have overrun of much of the country’s north and west over the past month. The Sunni militant blitz is led by the Islamic State extremist group, which has unilaterally declared the establishment of an Islamic state ruled by Shariah law in the territory it controls straddling the Iraq-Syria border.
The government’s reliance on Shiite militias — who have deployed in sizeable numbers to several cities across the country — to help counter the threat from Sunni militants has ramped up sectarian tensions, and helped fuel fears that Iraq could return to the wholesale sectarian bloodletting that engulfed the country in 2006 and 2007.
There are already worrying signs of such violence.