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The Iraqi soldier says he abandoned the army last week in despair. And while he still plans to fight he will not rejoin the unit he deserted in the city of Ramadi. Instead, he wants to sign up as a volunteer, alongside tens of thousands of others, to help defend Shiite shrines against Sunni insurgents who have swept the country's north and west and who he believes now threaten his sect. In some areas, there are now at least as many Shiite gunmen and civilian volunteers as there are regular soldiers and volunteers, a militia spokesman said.Volunteers in desert camouflage salute as they enter Colonel Ali al-Majidi's office, a spacious room packed with ornate sofas, coffee tables, ashtrays and vases at a military base in the Abu Ghraib district west of Baghdad.He said 1,200 volunteers have arrived to bolster his original force of over 3,400 troops since Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shiite preacher, called on all men able to carry arms to fight the insurgency June 13 . Sistani's fatwa has ensured there is no shortage of such volunteers, many of them young men from poor Shiite areas who see volunteering as a solemn obligation.One man who washes bodies before burial in the Shiite holy city of Najaf said he had seen at least 20 volunteers buried since Sistani's call to arms.
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