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Iraq insurgents move into northwest

By Agencies in Baghdad | China Daily | Updated: 2014-06-16 08:38

Iraq insurgents move into northwest

Iraqi security forces stand guard during clashes with the Sunni militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Jurf al-Sakhar on Saturday. Alaa Al-Marjani / Reuters

279militants killed in 24 hours as Baghdad blast claims 9 lives

The insurgent offensive that has threatened to dismember Iraq spread to the northwest of the country on Sunday, when Sunni militants launched a dawn raid on a town close to the Syrian border, clashing with police and government forces.

Iraqi security forces had reportedly killed 279 "terrorists" in the past 24 hours, as they pushed back against a major militant offensive, a security spokesman said on Sunday.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's security spokesman, Lieutenant General Qassem Atta, made the announcement during a televised news conference.

As the rapid advance south by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant toward Baghdad appeared to slow over the weekend, fierce fighting erupted in the town of Tal Afar 60 km west of Mosul near the Syrian border, security sources and a local official said.

ISIL fighters and other Sunni Muslim armed groups have stormed several towns on the road to Baghdad after seizing Mosul nearly a week ago - an offensive that only stalled as it approached the mainly Shiite capital.

The advance alarmed both Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shiite supporters in Iran and officials in the United States, which helped bring him to power after its 2003 invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.

The United States ordered an aircraft carrier moved into the Gulf on Saturday, readying it in case Washington decides to pursue a military option after insurgents overran areas in the north and advanced on Baghdad.

Obama has been under mounting fire from his Republican opponents over the swift collapse of Iraq's security forces, which Washington spent billions of dollars training and equipping before pulling out its own troops in late 2011.

Maliki's security forces and allied militias regained some territory on Saturday, easing part of the pressure on his Shiite-led government, and officials said they were regaining the initiative. Maliki has vowed to rout the insurgents.

But Sunday's fighting in Tal Afar, a majority Turkomen town home to both Shiites and Sunnis, showed how volatile the deepening sectarian divisions have become.

Residents in Sunni districts accused Shiite police and army forces of launching mortar fire at their neighborhoods, prompting ISIL forces stationed outside the town to move in.

"The situation is disastrous in Tal Afar. There is crazy fighting and most families are trapped inside houses, they can't leave town," a local official said.

In Baghdad on Sunday, a suicide attacker detonated explosives in a vest he was wearing, killing at least nine people and wounding 20 in a crowded street in the center of the capital, police and medical sources said.

At least six people were killed, including three soldiers and three volunteers, when four mortars landed at a recruiting center in Khlais, 50 km north of Baghdad.

Volunteers were gathered by army to join fighting to regain control of the northern town of Udhaim from ISIL militants.

They were some of the thousands who responded to a call by the country's most influential Shiite cleric to take up arms and defend the country against the hardline insurgents, many of whom consider Shiites as heretics.

Iran meanwhile warned on Sunday that "any foreign military intervention in Iraq" would only complicate the crisis, while Germany warned of a potential "proxy war" in the region.

"Iraq has the capacity and necessary preparations for the fight against terrorism and extremism," Foreign Ministry spokesman Marzieh Afkham was quoted as saying by the ISNA News Agency.

"Any action that complicates the situation in Iraq is not in the interests of the country nor of the region," Afkham said, adding, "The people and government of Iraq will be able to neutralize this conspiracy."

AFP - Reuters


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