Sunni militants seize more Iraqi towns as US presses unity
militants advanced through west Iraq after seizing a strategic Syria border
crossing, as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the region on Sunday,
aiming to bridge widening rifts.
The latest assaults
saw the security forces making “tactical” withdrawals in the face of an
insurgent onslaught that has displaced hundreds of thousands and alarmed the
world amid fears Iraq 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
The government said
its forces had made a “tactical” withdrawal from the towns, control of which
has allowed the militants to open up a strategic route to neighbouring Syria,
where they also control swathes of countryside along the Euphrates river
ISIL aims to create
an Islamic state that will incorporate both Iraq and Syria, where the group has
become a major force in the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.
Arab states to bring pressure on Iraq’s leaders to speed up government
formation, which has made little headway since elections in April.
leaders have stopped short of calling for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to step
down — arguing that it is up to the Iraqis to choose their own leaders — they
have left little doubt that they feel the Shiite premier has squandered the
opportunity to rebuild his country since US troops withdrew in 2011.
“We gave Iraq the chance to have an inclusive
democracy. To work across sectarian lines, to provide a better future for their
children,” President Barack Obama told CNN on Friday. “Unfortunately what we’ve
seen is a breakdown of trust.”
The seizure of
Al-Qaim leaves just one of three official border crossings with Syria in the
hands of the federal government. The third is controlled by Kurdish forces.
fighters already hold areas of the western desert province of Anbar, which
abuts the Syrian border, after taking all of one city and parts of another
earlier this year.
government forces, fighting back against the insurgents after initially wilting
before their onslaught, on Sunday launched an air strike on the militant-held
city of Tikrit, killing at least seven people, residents of the city said.