ISIL approaches on Baghdad

Uhrra
By Uhrra June 17, 2014 08:36

ISIL approaches on Baghdad

Iraqi government forces are engaged in heavy clashes with Sunni Islamist militants who have made major advances in the past week.

Reports say parts of the city of Baquba – just 60km (37 miles) from Baghdad – have been taken over by the rebels.

The US is deploying up to 275 military personnel to protect staff at its huge embassy in the capital.

The prime minister of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region has told the BBC he thinks Iraq may not stay together.

He said it would be very hard for Iraq to return to the situation that existed before the Sunni militants, led by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), took control of the northern cities of Mosul and Tikrit in a rapid advance last week, and Tal Afar on Monday.

Reports from Baquba – capital of Diyala province on the northern approaches to Baghdad – say rebels are reported to have taken over several quarters and captured the main police station, seizing many weapons.

However, security sources in Baquba told the BBC that Iraqi security forces were still in control of the city.

The overnight news that Islamist fighters – presumably from ISIS, but possibly other armed groups as well – have started moving into Sunni-dominated areas around the city of Baquba, the capital of Diyala province, is a very significant development.

If they manage to take control of the city, they will have a straight run down the major highways into Baghdad. There is nothing else in the way.

We don’t know how far they’ve actually managed to move into Baquba, or whether they are still on the outskirts, but clearly they are on the march again.

The situation north of Baghdad has been static for the past few days, and it seemed like the military and Shia militia were holding off the Sunni militants.

But now ISIS and the others seem to be making further progress.

At Tal Afar, a strategic city west of Mosul in the province of Nineveh, there are reports that reinforcements have arrived to boost government forces trying to recapture the town from rebels. The Iraqi air force is said to have been carrying out strikes in the area.

The city of 200,000 people, which has a mixed Sunni and Shia population, lies between Mosul and the Syrian border and was taken just before dawn on Monday.

In Anbar province to the west of Baghdad, Sunni militants shot down a government helicopter near the city of Falluja, and say they destroyed several tanks in fighting there. They also say army forces fled from a military base near Ramadi, the provincial capital.

Qasem Suleimani, the commander of an elite unit of Iran’s revolutionary guards, is reported to be in Baghdad, helping military leaders and Shia militias co-ordinate their campaign against the rebels.

In Vienna, US officials held brief discussions about Iraq with their Iranian counterparts at a meeting about Tehran’s nuclear programme, but American officials have been quick to dismiss reports of military collaboration with a major foe.

In a letter to Congress, US President Barack Obama said the 275 military personnel being sent to Iraq would protect US citizens and the embassy in Baghdad, and would remain there until the security situation improved.

A White House statement said that their main role would be to help embassy staff to relocate to US consulates in the cities of Basra in the south and Irbil in the north, and provide airfield management and security.

President Obama has already ruled out sending in ground troops to fight alongside Iraqi government forces, but drone strikes remain a possibility.

The aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush has been deployed to the Gulf, accompanied by two more warships.

‘Horrifying’

The United Nations says that ISIS fighters have carried out hundreds of summary executions since their offensive began last week.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said that systematic killings in the north of the country “almost certainly amounted to war crimes”.

Ms Pillay’s comments came after Sunni militants posted photos online appearing to show fighters massacring Iraqi soldiers.

The Iraqi military earlier said the pictures were real, but their authenticity has not been independently confirmed. The US condemned them as “horrifying”.

Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region: “There is no trust right now”

In his BBC interview, the prime minister of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, Nechirvan Barzani, said Sunni areas felt neglected by the Shia-dominated Iraqi government, and a political solution was the only way forward.

He said creating an autonomous Sunni region could be the answer:

“We have to leave it to Sunni areas to decide but I think this is the best model for them as well. First they have to take a decision: what they want exactly. And in our view… the best way is to have a Sunni region, like we have in Kurdistan.”

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ISIS in Iraq

  • ISIS has 3,000 to 5,000 fighters, and grew out of an al-Qaeda-linked organisation in Iraq
  • Joined in its offensives by other Sunni militant groups, including Saddam-era officers and soldiers, and disaffected Sunni tribal fighters
  • ISIS has exploited the standoff between the Iraqi government and the minority Sunni Arab community, which complains that Shia Prime Minister Nouri Maliki is monopolising power
  • The organisation is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an obscure figure regarded as a battlefield commander and tactician

 

Article from the BBC

 

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Uhrra
By Uhrra June 17, 2014 08:36

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