Iraq's top Shiite cleric issued a statement during Friday prayers today, calling on everyone—Shiite and Sunni alike—to fight back against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the New York Times reports. It is "the legal and national responsibility of whoever can hold a weapon, to hold it to defend the country," a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said in the holy city of Karbala, eliciting cheers of "It will be done!" The representative said these volunteers "must fill the gaps in the security forces," and that those who died in the fight would be martyrs, but stopped short of calling for a general armed response. In other developments:
- Iran has deployed two Revolutionary Guard units to Iraq, with the goal of protecting Baghdad, Karbala, and fellow holy city Najaf, security officials tell the Wall Street Journal. Iran has also positioned troops along its border, and given its air force the go ahead to bomb ISIS rebels within 60 miles of it.
- ISIS rebels briefly seized two towns near the Iranian border, Saadiyah and Jalawla, but they were beaten back by government troops and Kurdish forces.
- But Kurdish forces have also seized the opportunity to take over the long-disputed oil city of Kirkuk, meaning Nouri al-Maliki now has essentially two foes to contend with.
- The chaos has sent oil prices to their highest level this year—they touched $114.20 per barrel in morning trading today before settling back to $113.35. Analysts say that so far there's little direct threat to Iraq's top oil fields, but that the instability has markets nervous.
- A UN human rights official says there have been verified reports of 17 civilians killed, and unverified reports of as many as 30. Four women have also killed themselves after being raped. But he also chided Iraq's government for shelling civilian areas, the BBC reports.
- If ISIS can keep its hold on Mosul, BBC analyst Jeremy Bowen believes it will be "the most significant act by a jihadist group since al-Qaeda attacked the US on 11 September 2001," and potentially force a redrawing of the Middle East's borders—including breaking up Iraq along sectarian lines.
- The conflict is already having implications in Syria, as ISIS brings weapons seized from Iraq across the border, Reuters reports.
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