Iraqis in city of holy shrine prepare to fight ISIS - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

Iraqis in city of holy shrine prepare to fight ISIS

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Thousands in the holy city of Karbala vow to stop ISIS and protect their shrines. (Source: CNN) Thousands in the holy city of Karbala vow to stop ISIS and protect their shrines. (Source: CNN)
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KARBALA, IRAQ (CNN) – In the early 1800s, an Army of Wahhabi’s – Sunni extremists – tried to destroy the Holy Shi’a shrines in Karbala, the final resting place of one of Shi’a Islam most revered Imams, Imam Hussein, and his half-brother Abbas – they failed.

Now, more than two centuries later, ISIS, a terrorist group more extreme and merciless than al-Qaeda is vowing to level the holy site in Karbala.

The spokesman for the terrorist organization released an audio message urging the groups followers to keep marching as he said the battle was not yet raging saying that it would rage in Baghdad and the holy city of Karbala with the aim to destroy these sacred Shi'a shrines.

Security has always been tight around the city and now bolstered by volunteers, Karbala’s Governor Akeel al Toreihi says upwards of 35,000 have come forward.

"We have two camps in Karbala that can train 3, 000 to 4,000 at a time, and their training is in unconventional, urban warfare,” al Toreihi said.

Arrive at one of those camps in the desert and volunteers are on a break from the searing sun.

“We are trying to create a force – an offensive force,” said Falah Aoun, a computer engineer and volunteer.

Among those advising them are former members of the Badr Brigades, Iraqis trained in Iran to fight Saddam’s regime. Units numbering in the thousands are deployed in the hidden locations throughout this harsh terrain, which now borders land ISIS declares as its own.

One the other side of a giant lake is the Al Anbar province, Iraq’s Sunni heartland. ISIS has just renamed itself the Islamic State, and claimed Anbar as part of its caliphate.

It’s a declaration that enraged many Muslims, sowing fear among many Iraqis.

For the last decade, 28-year-old Adel Abdul Majid has had his money exchange stand outside the Karbala shrines.

"This place, even though we have security, we have good people, we don't feel safe," Majid said. "Everyone is on edge, people can’t relax, and Iraq doesn't deserve this."

If ISIS succeeds in destroying these sacred shrines, it could unleash a sectarian war bloodier than anything Iraq or the region have seen in recent history.

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