Story by the Associated Press; curated by Zach Noble
BAGHDAD (AP) — Hundreds of young Iraqi men flocked to volunteer centers across Baghdad Saturday to join the fight against Islamic militants who have advanced across the country's north this week.
Iraqi army troops chant slogans against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as they recruit volunteers to join the fight against a major offensive by the jihadist group in northern Iraq, outside a recruiting centre in the capital Baghdad on June 13, 2014. Iraqi forces clashed with militants advancing on the city of Baquba, just 60 kilometres (40 miles) north of Baghdad, as an offensive spearheaded by jihadists drew closer to the capital. Ali al-Saadi/AFP/Getty Images
They were responding to a call by Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric for Iraqis to defend their country against the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which seized Iraq's second-largest city Mosul and Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit in a lightning advance.
Fighters from the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant made fresh gains on Friday, driving government forces at least temporarily from two towns in an ethnically mixed province northeast of Baghdad.
President Barack Obama said Friday he is weighing options for countering the insurgency in Iraq, but warned Iraqi leaders that he would not take military action unless they moved to address the country's political divisions.
The massive response to the call by the Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, which was issued via his representative, could aggravate the Sunni-Shiite sectarian divide, which nearly tore the country apart in 2006 and 2007.
Shiite pilgrims passing by a poster of Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, right, in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, May 22, 2014. AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed
"Citizens who can carry weapons and fight the terrorists in defense of their country, its people and its holy sites should volunteer and join the security forces," Sheik Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie, al-Sistani's representative, said Friday in a sermon at the holy Shiite city of Karbala.
Iraqi men who volunteered to join the fight against a major attack by the jihadists in northern Iraq stand on an army truck heading towards the Iraqi town of Taji, on the outskirts of Baghdad, on June 13, 2014, as security forces are bolstering defenses in the capital. Jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants pushed towards the capital and US President Barack Obama said he was exploring all options to save Iraq's security forces from collapse. Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images
He warned that Iraq faced "great danger" and that fighting the militants "is everybody's responsibility, and is not limited to one specific sect or group." Al-Karbalaie's comments have consistently been thought to reflect al-Sistani's views.
The insurgent assault threatens to embroil Iraq more deeply in a wider regional conflict feeding off the chaos caused by the civil war in neighboring Syria.
This image posted on a militant news Twitter account on Thursday, June 12, 2014 shows militants from the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) removing part of the soil barrier on the Iraq-Syria borders and moving through it. Fresh gains by insurgents, spearheaded by fighters from the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, come as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government struggles to form a coherent response after militants overran the country's second-largest city of Mosul, Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit and smaller communities, as well as military and police bases — often after meeting little resistance from state security forces. AP Photo/albaraka_news
The fast-moving rebellion, which also draws support from former Saddam Hussein-era figures and other disaffected Sunnis, has emerged as the biggest threat to Iraq's stability since the U.S. withdrawal in 2011. It has pushed the nation closer to a precipice that could partition it into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish zones.
Also Saturday, the Iraqi government counterterrorism department, said the son of Saddam's vice president, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, was killed in an air raid by the Iraqi air force in Tikrit. It said Ahmed al-Douri was killed with some 50 other Saddam loyalists and ISIL fighters on Friday. The reported could not be immediately verified.