Iraqis displaced from parts of the country which are now controlled by Sunni jihadist from the Islamic State (IS) receive aid from people of the southern holy city of Nafaf on July 14, 2014. AFP PHOTO/HAIDAR HAMDANI
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The holy Shiite city of Najaf has gained prominence as a center of political and military power since the start of a crisis that has raised the specter of Iraq breaking up along sectarian and ethnic lines.Most of Iraq's political leaders say they want to preserve national unity, yet a Sunni jihadist offensive has seen influence ebb from Baghdad and flow to Iraq's north, where Kurds aim to form an independent state, and to the southern city of Najaf, home to Shiite-majority's Iraq's holiest shrines and most powerful sheikhs. While the central government has struggled to respond to the ISIS-led onslaught, which began on June 9, Najaf has absorbed thousands of Iraqis fleeing the violence, and its sheikhs have rallied thousands of Shiite fighters to bolster a flagging national army. Shortly after arriving in Najaf, Abu Hussein said he had received 50,000 dinars ($43) per family member from a charity connected to Iraq's most revered Shiite sheikh, Najaf-based Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
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