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Thousands of Iraqi Shiites answer cleric's call to arms, mobilize to fight Sunni militants

Saturday - 6/14/2014, 4:20pm  ET

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Thousands of Shiite men from Baghdad and across southern Iraq are answering an urgent call to arms, joining security forces to fight the Islamic militants who have captured large stretches of territory north of the capital and now threaten Samarra and other cities with revered religious shrines.

The mobilization has a clear sectarian slant. State-run television has been airing a constant flow of nationalist songs and interviews with troops vowing to crush the militants, while other broadcasts have been showing clips of Iraq's top Shiite clerics and shots of Shiite shrines.

But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki denies the call to arms is directed against Sunnis, saying it's meant to protect the country and its holy shrines. He's calling for the unity of all Iraqis.

The crisis has sent food prices soaring in Baghdad as army troops go house-to-house searching for militants and weapons in neighborhoods close to government installations.

Today, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant gained more territory. A local official in Diyala province says the Sunni militants seized a small town about 60 miles north of Baghdad after Iraqi security forces pulled out.

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137-a-16-(Glen Rangwala (rayng-WAH'-lah), lecturer in politics and international studies, Cambridge University, in interview)-"of Iraqi society"-Middle East expert Glen Rangwala says the Iraqi government has to guard against backlash as it moves against the militants who've gained ground in parts of Iraq. COURTESY: Sky News ((mandatory on-air credit)) ((refers to ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria)) (14 Jun 2014)

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APPHOTO XKK126: Iraqi Shiite tribal fighters raise their weapons and chant slogans against the al-Qaida inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Baghdad's Sadr city, Iraq, Saturday, June 14, 2014. Thousands of Shiites from Baghdad and across southern Iraq answered an urgent call to arms Saturday, joining security forces to fight the Islamic militants who have captured large swaths of territory north of the capital and now imperil a city with a much-revered religious shrine. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim) (14 Jun 2014)

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APPHOTO BAG113: Iraqi Shiite fighters deploy with their weapons in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles (550 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, June 14, 2014. Thousands of Shiites from Baghdad and across southern Iraq answered an urgent call to arms Saturday, joining security forces to fight the Islamic militants who have captured large swaths of territory north of the capital and now imperil a city with a much-revered religious shrine. (AP Photo/ Nabil Al-Jurani) (14 Jun 2014)

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APPHOTO BAG120: Iraqi Shiite tribal fighters raise their weapons and chant slogans against the al-Qaida inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles (550 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, June 14, 2014. Thousands of Shiites from Baghdad and across southern Iraq answered an urgent call to arms Saturday, joining security forces to fight the Islamic militants who have captured large swaths of territory north of the capital and now imperil a city with a much-revered religious shrine. (AP Photo/ Nabil Al-Jurani) (14 Jun 2014)

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APPHOTO BAG125: In this photo taken on Friday, June 13, 2014, Ammar al-Hakim, leader of Iraq's largest Shiite party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, observes the main army recruiting center in Baghdad, Iraq. Thousands of Shiites from Baghdad and across southern Iraq answered an urgent call to arms Saturday, joining security forces to fight the Islamic militants who have captured large swaths of territory north of the capital and now imperil a city with a much-revered religious shrine. (AP Photo) (13 Jun 2014)

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