News / Middle East

    ISIL Militants in Iraq Seize Border Crossings

    A fighter with the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) takes control of a traffic intersection in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, June 22, 2014.
    A fighter with the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) takes control of a traffic intersection in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, June 22, 2014.
    VOA News
    Sunni militants in Iraq have seized two more border crossings, one with Syria and one with Jordan, in addition to the four nearby towns captured by insurgent forces since Friday.
     
    Jordan began to beef up border security after the crossings fell Sunday.
     
    Security officials say the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is now in control of Qaim, Rawa, Ana and Rutba in Iraq's western Anbar province.
     
    The blitz takes the al-Qaida-inspired group closer to its goal of carving out a purist Islamic state straddling both Syria and Iraq.
     
    Meanwhile, at least six people were killed Sunday by a suicide bomber and a car bomb in the provincial capital of Ramadi. The attack targeted mourners at the funeral of an Iraqi police officer.

    In a televised interview, U.S. President Barack Obama warned that the insurgents' strength could grow and destabilize other countries in the Middle East.

    The American leader said the U.S. must remain "vigilant," but would not "play 'Whac-A-Mole' and send U.S. troops occupying various countries wherever these organizations pop up."
     
    Demonstrators protest outside of the White House in Washington against renewed U.S. involvement in Iraq in Washington, D.C., June 21, 2014.Demonstrators protest outside of the White House in Washington against renewed U.S. involvement in Iraq in Washington, D.C., June 21, 2014.
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    Demonstrators protest outside of the White House in Washington against renewed U.S. involvement in Iraq in Washington, D.C., June 21, 2014.
    Demonstrators protest outside of the White House in Washington against renewed U.S. involvement in Iraq in Washington, D.C., June 21, 2014.

    The United States has begun a new diplomatic bid to unite Iraq's fractious leaders and repel insurgents.

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Egypt Sunday at the start of a visit to the Middle East and Europe, mainly to consult with partners about Iraq, where Sunni militants have made new advances in an offensive that has alarmed the world. 

    Kerry's unannounced stop in Cairo early Sunday was part of a diplomatic mission to push Egypt toward democracy.

    While in Cairo, Kerry said the U.S. wanted the Iraqi people to find a leadership that is prepared to represent all Iraqis but that Washington would not pick or choose the leadership in Baghdad.

    Kerry also urged Iraqi leaders to rise above "sectarian considerations," and said that Washington was "not responsible" for the crisis.

    Kerry will stop in Jordan Sunday before heading to Brussels for the NATO foreign ministers' meeting, and then to Paris for meetings with regional partners and Gulf allies.  

    Iran reaction

    Iran's top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Sunday he is against U.S. intervention in neighboring Iraq, where Islamic extremists and Sunni militants opposed to Tehran have seized a number of towns and cities, the official IRNA news agency reported.

    The statement by Khamenei was the clearest statement of opposition to a U.S. plan to dispatch of up to 300 military advisers in response to pleas from the Iraqi government and runs counter to speculation that old enemies Washington and Tehran might cooperate to defend their mutual ally in Baghdad.
     
    “We strongly oppose the intervention of the U.S. and others in the domestic affairs of Iraq,” Khamenei was quoted as saying, in his first reaction to the crisis.
     
    “The main dispute in Iraq is between those who want Iraq to join the U.S. camp and those who seek an independent Iraq,” said Khamenei, who has the final say over government policies. “The U.S. aims to bring its own blind followers to power since the U.S. is not happy about the current government in Iraq.”
     
    Khamenei said Iraq's government and its people, with help of top clerics, would be able to end the “sedition” there, saying extremists are hostile to both Shi'ites and Sunnis who seek an independent Iraq.
     
    Earlier on Sunday Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said some countries “feed terrorists by their petrodollars,” in a veiled reference to the Arab Gulf states, and warned that such support would come back to haunt them.

    Rouhani has said his countrymen will not hesitate to defend Shi'ite shrines in Iraq if need be, but he has also said, like Khamenei, that Iraqis are capable of doing that job themselves.
     
    Thousands of Shi'ite Iraqis have responded to calls to take up arms and defend the country against the insurgency.

    Tehran and Washington have been shocked by the lightning quick offensive, spearheaded by ISIL, that has seen large swathes of northern and western Iraq fall to the hardline extremist group and other Sunni fighters since June 10, including the north's biggest city Mosul.

    Strategic towns

    The towns of Qaim, Rawah, Anah and Rutba are the first seized in the mainly Sunni Anbar province since fighters from the ISIL and their allies overran the city of Fallujah and parts of the provincial capital of Ramadi earlier this year.
     
    The capture of Rawah on the Euphrates River and the nearby town of Anah appeared to be part of a march toward a key dam in the city of Haditha, the destruction of which would damage the country's electrical grid and cause major flooding.
     
    Taking Rutba gives the insurgents control over the final stretch of a major highway to neighboring Jordan, a key artery for passengers and goods that has been infrequently used for months because of deteriorating security.
     
    Iraqi military officials said more than 2,000 troops were quickly dispatched to the site of the dam to protect it. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, Reuters reported.

    There was a lull in fighting at Iraq's largest refinery, Beiji, near Tikrit, on Sunday morning.

    The site had been transformed into a battlefield since Wednesday as Sunni fighters launched an assault on the plant. Militants entered the large compound but were held off by Iraqi military units.
     
    A black column of smoke rose from the site. Refinery officials said it was caused by a controlled burning of waste.

    Chief military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, acknowledged the fall of the Anbar towns, saying government forces had made a tactical retreat and planned to retake them. He provided no further details.
     
    The Islamic State and allied militants have carved out a large fiefdom along the Iraqi-Syrian border. Control over crossings like that one in Qaim allows them to more easily move weapons and heavy equipment. Rebels control the Syrian side of the crossing.

    Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-dominated government has struggled to push back against the Sunni militants, who have seized large swaths of the country's north since taking control of Mosul on June 10 as troops melted away.

    US response

    Iraq has requested U.S. airstrikes to help halt the advance, but Obama has yet to order any, and has instead called on Iraqi leaders to form a more representative government in thinly veiled criticism of al-Maliki.

    The U.S., however, has been drawn back into the conflict.

    It is deploying up to 300 military advisers to join about 275 troops in and around Iraq to provide security and support for the U.S. Embassy and other American interests.
     
    The fighting has threatened to tear the country apart for good, reducing Iraq to separate Sunni, Shi'ite and ethnic Kurdish regions. It has highlighted divisions among regional powers, especially Iran, which has said it would not hesitate to protect Shi'ite shrines in Iraq if asked, and Sunni Saudi Arabia, which has warned Iran to stay out of Iraq.
     
    Iraq's Kurds have meanwhile expanded their territory in the northeast, including the long-prized oil city of Kirkuk.

    Relations between the diverse Sunni groups have not been entirely smooth.

    On Sunday morning, clashes raged for a third day between ISIL and Sunni tribes backed by the Naqshbandi Army, a group led by former army officers and Baathists, around Hawija, local security sources and tribal leaders said, Reuters reported.

    On Saturday, heavily armed Shi'ite fighters paraded in Baghdad in a dramatic show of force aimed at Sunni militants who seized an Iraqi town that borders Syria, widening a western front in an offensive threatening to rip apart the country.

    Thousands of fighters loyal to powerful Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have vowed to fight ISIL, which now controls a large portion of northern and western Iraq, and has been moving closer to the capital.

    Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AP.

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    Comments
         
    by: eusebio manuel vestias from: Portugal
    June 23, 2014 4:48 PM
    Diplomacy the peace on Iraq

    by: 1worldnow from: Earth
    June 23, 2014 3:25 AM
    TRUTH TO BE TOLD: OK, Meanbill, you are the leading expert on conspiracy theories, we get it. (Is this you, Larry S?) Especially since most of your conspiracy theories have the dire untones of anti-Americanism. You win.

    All our theories and postulations have done nothing to stop the suffering of the people in this world, mostly at the hands of religious extremists, thugs, gangs, drug cartels, politicians, etc.

    Regardless of the lies from our government (yeah, Clinton was innocent too, Reagan (Iran/Contra), and the neverending blame-Bush campaign) will not change the 'truth to be told' (should I use all caps, meanbill?).

    In order to be a Muslim, you have to cleanse the world of infidels. Period. In order to be a Muslim, you have to fullfill Muhammeds vision, not an option. A blood Muslim (yes, the same terminology used by the Hebrews) can never be anything other than a Muslim, ever. The leader of the free world was born and raised a Sunni 'blood' Muslim. Why the emphasis on 'blood'? Because converts are the lower-class, and the most insignificant Muslim. Just like if I were to convert to Judiasm, I would be welcomed in the synagogs and bar mitzvas, but not in the heirarchy. The leader of the free world was born, by blood, a Sunni Muslim. So, meanbill, check on this conspiracy theory. You will not have to reasearch too hard. It's so obvious.

    The leader of the free world did convert to Christianity, yahoo. But he will always be a Sunni Muslim patriot. Always. Hmmmmmm, Meanbill? Why was he so quick to pull out of Iraq first, yet, so reluctant to help now? Let me think on this one.....

    Our leaders handling this issue in the Middle East, with all the talking and 'we have options on the table' rhetoric, is pathetic, to put it nicely. Imagine your house is on fire and the fire department shows up to simply discuss how to handle the fire? Meanwhile, the police chief holds a press conference to discuss your house being on fire. Might as well grab some marshmallows.

    by: Mark from: washinton
    June 22, 2014 3:38 PM
    This is an effort to simply strengthen ties with Egypt for defense strategy only to little to late but they will take the money!
    Spend the money on our poor vets at home.

    by: Mike from: Virginia
    June 22, 2014 3:31 PM
    All the blood shed for some of these provinces being taken over and for what?
    Many documentaries of special forces and other teams patrolling and in some cases dying in these areas, but now we see it was for nothing as these places are so easily taken over.
    Pretty sickening for young people to see this and then to think more young ones will be asked to go to these messed up provinces for some polical agenda.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    June 22, 2014 5:47 PM
    IN REBUTTAL -- Not one single US military man or woman died, or was wounded, fighting for Iraq or for the Iraqi people, (and if), any US military men or women died fighting in Iraq, they did it to destroy the "weapons of mass destruction" that US Secretary of State Colin Powell convinced the UN and the world, with fabricated and falsified evidence, that Saddam had, and would use them against his neighbors... (REMMBER?)

    REMEMBER why the US invaded Iraq? -- The US invaded Iraq to destroy the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" Saddam allegedly possessed, (and), they did not invade Iraq to bring freedom or democracy to the Iraq people or their country, did they?

    FACTUAL FACTS? -- Not one single US Military man or woman was killed or wounded fighting for any Iraqis or their country, were they? --- The US invaded Iraq to destroy Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction" (and), to kill Saddam and his sons, (and), thoughts about the Iraqi people and the Iraq country. came afterwards.....

    by: Not Again from: Canada
    June 22, 2014 12:16 PM
    This sit, Iran's position, is not unexpected; the Maliki gvmt has promoted Shia hegemony over all others, to the full detriment of the Sunni and Kurdish population of Iraq; right from the onset of the Maliki gvmt, it was observed that he was propped up by the pro Iranian Shia Sadr militia. Essentially, right from the start, the Bush administration should have had a clear view that the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, was being replaced by a Shia centric gvmt. The results are now clearly evident and conclusive, that a multi--ethnic state does not have a good chance of survival, if the gvmt is not inclined to include all the constituent people; for that very reason, Maliki, refused to sign an agreement that would keep the US administration engaged on the ground; and notwithstanding that the Bush administration tried for almost two years to achieve an agreement, it was a failed attempt.

    by: meanbill from: USA
    June 22, 2014 11:22 AM
    TRUTH BE TOLD -- There was a little over 3,000 Sunni (ISIL) terrorists that entered Iraq to get Sunni Muslim recruits and establish a Sunni Caliphate, -- (AND NOW?) -- the other Sunni terrorists groups, and Sunni tribes and civilians, and the Sunni military army and air force, have joined the Sunni (ISIL) terrorists to form a Caliphate, or destroy the Shia led Iraq government.....

    The US, EU, and NATO countries say, that the Sunni (ISIL) terrorists have seized many towns and cities, (but in reality), those towns and cities the Sunni (ISIL) control, were just given to them by their Sunni residents, and Sunni army, (and), they didn't have to fight any battles for them...

    NOW the US, EU, and NATO countries give advice to Maliki on trying to end the Sunni Muslim uprising, by inclusion of more "unelected" Sunni Muslims and Kurds in the Shia "elected" majority Iraq government, (and), these are the same US, EU, and NATO countries, that arm and train the extremists/terrorists in Jordan and Turkey, that are killing Shia Muslims in Syria and Iraq, (and), if Maliki trusts their advice, he'd be crazy, wouldn't he be? --- PS; (Don't trust the man who bowed to the Wahhabi Sunni Saudi King)

    MALIKI needs the courage and wisdom of King Solomon, to defeat this Sunni uprising, and ignore the advice of those who arm and train those who kill the Shia Muslims in Syria and Iraq, (and somehow), find a way to win this Sunni Muslim uprising with an army that's about 50% Sunni Muslim, that refuse to fight the Sunni Muslim terrorists, or any other Sunni Muslims attacking the Shia led Government. -- (King Solomon himself with all of his wisdom, and with God helping him, couldn't win this Sunni uprising, with half of his army, joining on the side of his enemies)....

    by: Ben from: Philadelphia
    June 22, 2014 11:01 AM
    Great, let's have a few more military parades in Baghdad then... preferable to actually fighting.

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