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'This is Iraq - if you have guns, bring them'

Iraqis in Baghdad and beyond are reaching for their rifles in a call to arms to stop ISIL.
Last modified: 15 Jun 2014 21:39

Iraq's military recruitment drive has intensified over the last few days. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani ‎on Friday announced that all Iraqis should join the national army.

His word counts. He's the highest Shia religious authority in the country and as such is the spiritual guide for millions of Shia in this country, but his statement was meant to include all Iraqis not just Shia. 

On state TV, patriotic songs fill the space in between the news and cooking programmes. One song shows Iraqis of all ages join together on the steps of what looks like a mosque. They are each draped in the national flag while an orchestra plays a sweeping score underneath.

With each line they sing louder, lauding Iraq and Iraqis. Another video sees a unit of the Iraqi military stand menacing in the background while a slightly uncomfortable, overweight singer dressed to the nines in battlefield gear sings the praises of Iraq's army. 

It all points to the further militarisation of Iraqi society. On Sunday the National Security Council hosted a press conference. One of the messages caught my ear: "If you have weapons at home, please bring them to the recruitment centre, there we will register you." 

'Join and fight'

The official line is clear. Iraqis must join up and fight. However, there is concern that the call to arms is being manipulated for political and sectarian purposes. 

Speaking to a foreign a diplomat here I got a sense that he was worried.

"Sistani's call to arms was clear, it was non-sectarian and a call for Iraqis to join the national army. But it's been twisted by certain groups as an excuse to join militias and that in the long run will be unhelpful." 

Here in Baghdad we are getting credible reports that Shia militias are setting up checkpoints of their own in areas they control. This suggests the city is getting ready for an assault. 

The sense of nervousness is palpable.  Young men are signing up to fight at recruitment centres across the city and the country. I've heard some say they have moved their guns to easily accessible locations in their houses and cars. 

It's no exaggeration to say that people are preparing for an attack on the city. The security services have increased checkpoints and are mounting ‎more mobile patrols. 

Iraqi society ‎is not shy of gun culture.

Last year I was chatting with a friend called Ammar. He told me: "You need at least three guns. An AK-47 for the house, a pistol for the car and a hunting rifle." ‎

At the time I put it down to a mentality developed during years of war. I called Ammar on Sunday and asked him how he felt about the current crisis.

After telling me about his fear for his family and friends, and how if it came to it he would fight, he said: "This is Iraq - if you have guns, bring them."  

Follow Imran Khan on Twitter.