Militants seize more Iraq towns as US presses unity


BAGHDAD: Sunni militants advanced in western Iraq and killed 21 people after security forces left several towns, while America’s top diplomat called Sunday for the country’s leaders to rise above sectarianism.

It is the latest in a series of setbacks for Iraqi forces, which are struggling to hold their ground in the face of an insurgent onslaught that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and sparked fears that the country could tear itself apart.

The militants, led by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), seized the towns of Rawa and Ana after taking the Al-Qaim border crossing on Saturday, residents said.

They then gunned down 21 local leaders in Rawa and Ana in two days of violence, according to officers and doctors.

The government said its forces had made a “tactical” withdrawal from the towns, control of which allows the militants to open a strategic route to neighbouring Syria where they also hold swathes of countryside along the Euphrates river valley.

ISIL aims to create an Islamic state incorporating both Iraq and Syria, where the group has become a major force in the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.

Washington wants Arab states to bring pressure on Iraq’s leaders to speed up government formation, which has made little headway since April elections, and has tried to convince them ISIL poses as much of a threat to them as to Iraq.

“We’re going to have to be vigilant generally,” US President Barack Obama said in an interview aired Sunday on CBS.

Obama said that while ISIL’s offensive in could destabilise other countries in the region and “could spill over into some of our allies like Jordan.”

“They are engaged in wars in Syria where — in that vacuum that’s been created — they could amass more arms, more resources.”

US leaders have stopped short of calling for Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to step down, but there is little doubt that they feel he has squandered the opportunity to rebuild Iraq since US troops withdrew in 2011.

The seizure of Al-Qaim leaves just one of three official border crossings with Syria in federal government hands. The third is controlled by Kurdish forces.

Militants already hold areas of the western desert province of Anbar which abuts the Syrian border, after capturing this year all of one city and parts of another.

Near Anbar capital Ramadi, parts of which are held by anti-government fighters, a suicide bombing and a car bomb killed six people and wounded eight, officials said.

Elsewhere, a government air strike on the militant-held city of Tikrit, killed at least seven people, residents said, while the defence ministry announced air raids on the northern city of Mosul.

The insurgents also clashed with security forces and pro-government tribal fighters in Al-Alam east of Tikrit, with militants killing the women’s affairs adviser to the provincial governor.

The fighting came as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Cairo on a trip to the Middle East and Europe, with Washington aiming to unite Iraq’s fractious leaders and repel the militants.

“We must urge Iraq’s leaders to rise above sectarian considerations… and speak to all people,” Kerry said in Cairo, adding that Washington is not responsible for the current crisis.

Kerry later travelled to Jordan, and will also visit Brussels and Paris, where Washington is also expected to push for greater efforts to cut off funding to ISIL.

“First and foremost, we are urging countries that have diplomatic dealings with Iraq and that are in the region to take that threat as seriously as we do,” said a State Department official.

“Second, we are underscoring the need for Iraqi leaders to expedite their government formation process and to come together around a new government that is inclusive.”

Kerry is expected to travel to Iraq for his second visit since taking over as secretary of state in 2013 but the date is not known.

Washington backed Maliki when he first became premier in 2006, as he was seen to be cracking down on Shiite militias while reaching out to Sunni leaders.

But he has since made what critics say are increasingly sectarian moves, triggering US calls for him to represent all Iraqis, particularly minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds.

Obama has offered to send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq, but has so far not backed air strikes as requested by Baghdad.



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  1. E. G. Festin on

    The US call for leaders of Iraq’s rival Islamic “churches” is naive. The Sunnis, communities as well as officials (including Saddam Hussein), have murdered and oppressed the Shiites who are the majority of the population. Now that the Shiites with US and Iranian help are in power, they have oppressed and killed the Sunnis. Both Snnis and Shiites gave also maltreated the Kurds, the Jews and the Christians of Iraq.

    Forcing people who have only distrusty and hatred for each other to form one state with one government is stupid. Look at the unraveling of the similarly forced “unity” as one state of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. The imperialists and oil-profit motivated British and also the Americans are the ones who wanted this part of ancient Mesopotamia to become one country. The US stupidly spent billions to impose a false unity in Iraq, which was every day challenged by rowdy armies of Shiites and Sunnis. The moment the US forces left Iraq supposedly at peace and united under the elected Shiite majority national government, with tokens of Sunni officials, al-Maliki and his Shiites began maltreating the Sunnis. The so-called militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are gaining areas of Iraq whose populations are mainly Sunni. That’s because the security forces in these areas have actually joined the ISIS-ISIL against the Shiite-dominated national government.
    Forging a so-called unity government in Iraq is a pipe dream. The best thing is to have three states in this part of the old Mesopotamia. Sorry for the one state that will have no oil!