Iraq’s top Shiite religious authority Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called Iraqis Friday to take up arms against the foreign backed militants who have overrun swathes of the country after launching a major offensive.

“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,” his representative announced on his behalf during Friday prayers in the city of Karbala.

The Grand Ayatollah made the call to arms as so called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) foreign backed terrorists continue to commit crimes against Iraqi people including Shiites, Sunnis and Christians.

He had earlier called for all of the country’s political factions to unite against the insurgency in a statement released which condemned the capture of Nineveh province.

He has also voiced his support for the Iraqi army engaged in fighting against ISIL.

The extremist militants from ISIL have captured some parts of two provincial capitals this week, namely Tikrit in the Salahuddin Province and Iraq’s second city of Mosul in the northern Nineveh Province.

Over the past days, Iraqi armed forces have been engaged in fierce clashes with the extremist terrorists, who have threatened to take their acts of violence to other Iraqi cities, including the capital. Hundreds of Iraqi volunteers have rushed to army recruitment centers to join the fight against terrorism.

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