Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds Leap into Battle in Iraq, Risking a Split

TIME

As fighters from an al-Qaeda inspired and staunchly Sunni Islamic militant group closed on more Iraqi cities in its march towards Baghdad, Iraq’s most senior Shi’ite cleric issued a call to arms at Friday prayers.

“Citizens who are able to bear arms and fight terrorists, defending their country and their people and their holy places, should volunteer and join the security forces to achieve this holy purpose,” Sheik Abdulmehdi al-Karbalai told his congregants in statements broadcast across the country.

Meanwhile, in the semi-autonomous northern enclave of Iraqi Kurdistan, Kurdish militias cemented control over the contested town of Kirkuk, taking militarily what they had long fought, and failed, to gain politically. Suddenly Iraq appears on the brink of a violent ethno-sectarian divide between Sunnis, Shi’ite and Kurds that poses the greatest security risk that the country, and the region, has seen since the U.S. invaded in 2003.

“We are seeing the…

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