There are fears that Iraq could once again descend into civil war after the country’s most senior Shia Muslim cleric issued a call to arms to fight a rapidly advancing Sunni insurgency.
From the holy city of Kerbala, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged Iraq’s Shia community on Friday to unite against the militants.
Fighters under the black flag of ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) are sweeping south towards Baghdad in a campaign to recreate a medieval caliphate which has turned into a widespread insurgency against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s rule.
In addition to closing in on the capital, the Sunni insurgents continue to consolidate key cities in the north and east of Iraq such as Mosul, while Iraqi Kurdish forces control Kirkuk.
In a worrying sign of the ever growing security vacuum and the evaporation of Iraq’s army, an online video published on a social media site on Friday claimed to show Iraqi soldiers being captured by Islamist fighters.
While the video cannot be verified, the meltdown of Iraqi government forces has raised the prospect of outside support for Maliki, with both Washington and Tehran openly discussing military intervention.