Baghdad: Thousands of Shiites from Baghdad and across southern Iraq answered an urgent call to arms on 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.
The mobilisation, urged by the nation`s top Shiite cleric, took on a sectarian dimension that threatened to intensify Sunni-Shiite strife in a nation already ripped by religious fervor after the militants` battlefield successes.
In Baghdad, fallout from the stunning advance in the north was beginning to affect daily life for the city`s 7 million inhabitants.
Some food prices rose dramatically. Army troops went house-to-house searching for militants and weapons in neighborhoods close to vital government installations. The streets of the capital were quieter than usual, and military and police checkpoints made extra efforts to check cars and passenger Ids.
The price hikes were partly the result of transportation disruptions on the main road linking the capital with provinces to the north, but they might also be a telltale sign of a nervous city.
"We were not prepared for this sudden spike in the prices of foodstuff, vegetables and fuel," said Yasser Abbas, a government employee from Baghdad`s sprawling eastern Sadr City district.
"I do not know how the poor people in Baghdad will manage their life in the coming days. God be with them until this crisis is over because hunger is as dangerous as bullets."
In the meantime, dozens of men climbed into the back of army trucks at volunteer centers, chanting Shiite religious slogans, hoisting assault rifles and pledging to join the nation`s beleaguered security forces to battle the Sunni militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
"By God`s will, we will be victorious." said one volunteer, Ali Saleh Aziz. "We will not be stopped by the ISIL or any other terrorists."
The volunteers were first taken to an assembly center in eastern Baghdad, where they were handed military uniforms, and later went to Taji, home of Iraq`s largest military base north of Baghdad, to undergo basic training. State-run television aired footage of the volunteers being drilled, still in their civilian clothes.