Iraq sending 4,000 volunteers to help govt forces in Ramadi
Around 2,500 of the volunteers arrived in Ramadi, located 115 kilometers west of the capital, yesterday and are to be joined by the remaining 1,500 today, 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. Human Rights Watch said yesterday that Iraqi security forces and government-affiliated militias appear to have killed at least 255 prisoners in six cities and villages since 9 June.
It said five of the mass killings took place when security forces were fleeing as militants advanced, and that the vast the prisoners killed were Sunni.
Most members of the security forces and militias are Shiite. The six incidents appear to be aimed at avenging the deaths of Shiites captured and killed by the Islamic State group, Human Rights Watch said.
There is also evidence the militants have carried out mass killings. The Islamic State group posted graphic photos online last month showing the militants killing dozens of police and soldiers. The Iraqi military confirmed the photographs and said around 170 soldiers were killed. Human Rights Watch put the number between 160 and 190.