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Iraq troops 'retake two towns' from rampaging Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militant group

Shi'ite ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issues rallying cry to people against Sunni Isis, while President Nuri al-Maliki agrees to arm citizens

Iraqi troops reportedly retook two towns over the weekend that had been seized by the insurgent Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) group.

The action may mark a recovery in Baghdad from Isis’s lightning offensive, but Isis fighters still controlled the cities of Mosul and Tikrit.

Thousands of Shi’ites from Baghdad and across southern Iraq answered an urgent call to arms on Saturday, joining security forces to fight the rebels north of the capital.

Influential Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani had issued the call for people to fight the “terrorists” and defend Iraq’s multiplicity of shrines holy to Shi’ites.

But not all Iraqis saw the conflict in a purely religious light.

The Iraqi Communist Party made its own calls for resistance, urging Iraqis to “take urgent action to support the military, security and intelligence efforts of our armed forces in order to perform their national duty to defeat the forces of terrorism.”

And Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced the government would arm and equip the thousands who signed up.

But the rebel offensive continued yesterday as mortar rounds smashed into a recruitment centre for civilian volunteers, killing six people.

Three soldiers were among the dead in the attack in Khales, north of Diyala provincial capital Baquba.

And there were still signs of disarray on the government side.

A government air strike hit a convoy of Kurdish forces which had moved into Khanaqin in eastern Iraq during an Isis offensive, killing six peshmerga fighters.

It was not immediately clear if the Saturday night attack, which also wounded some 20 others, was specifically targeting the Kurdish troops or was a “friendly fire” incident.

Iraq’s Kurds have willingly joined the fight against Isis, but the federal government is fearful of any incorporation of new territory into the Kurdish autonomous zone.

Meanwhile, food prices rose dramatically in Baghdad.

“We were not prepared for this sudden spike in the prices of foodstuff, vegetables and fuel,” said Yasser Abbas, a government employee from the 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.”

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