Iraq airlifted some 4,000 volunteers to an embattled city west of Baghdad to help bolster government forces locked in a running battle with fighters there, authorities said Saturday.
Around 2,500 of the volunteers arrived in Ramadi, located 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of the capital, on Friday and were to be joined by the remaining 1,500 on Saturday, 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, according to AP.
The vast majority of volunteers are fighters who have answered a call from the country's top Shia cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to defend Iraq from the terrorists 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.
There is evidence the militants have carried out mass killings in Iraq. 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.
Ramadi is the capital of Anbar, an overwhelmingly Sunni province and one of the most active battle fronts in Iraq. The Islamic State group and other Sunni militant groups seized control of the Anbar city of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi in January. The government has since reasserted its control of Ramadi, but Fallujah remains in insurgent hands.
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