Islamist fighters vow to capture Baghdad

Updated: 2014-06-13 07:28

By Agencies in Baghdad (China Daily)

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Sunni militants seek to 'settle old scores' with Shiite prime minister

The al-Qaida-inspired group that led the charge in capturing two key Sunni-dominated cities in Iraq this week vowed on Thursday to march on Baghdad, raising fears about the Shiite-led government's ability to slow the jihadi assault.

Fighters from the militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took former president Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on Wednesday as soldiers and security forces abandoned their posts and yielded ground once controlled by US troops.

That seizure followed the capture of much of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, the previous day. The group and its allies among local tribesmen also hold the city of Fallujah and other pockets of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province to the west of Baghdad.

The Iraqi military also abandoned some posts in the ethnically mixed flashpoint city of Kirkuk that are now being held by the Kurdish security forces known as peshmerga, Halogard Hikmat, a senior peshmerga official told The Associated Press. He said the Kurds moved on Thursday to protect an air base and other sites, but denied reports that the whole city was under peshmerga control.

ISIL's spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, also threatened that the group's fighters will take the southern Iraqi Shiite cities of Karbala and Najaf, which hold two of the holiest shrines for Shiite Muslims.

ISIL aims to create an Islamic emirate spanning both sides of the Iraq-Syria border, and has captured large areas of Syria, where it is seeking to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad. It has been able to push deep into parts of the Iraqi Sunni heartland once controlled by US forces because police and military forces melted away after relatively brief clashes.

Capital on alert

The militants attacked an Iraqi security checkpoint in the town of Tarmiyah, 50 kilometers north of Baghdad, killing five troops and wounding nine, said officials. However, Baghdad does not appear to be in imminent danger from a large-scale assault, although Sunni insurgents have stepped up car bombings and suicide attacks in the capital in recent months.

So far, ISIL fighters have stuck to the Sunni heartland and former Sunni insurgent strongholds where people are already alienated by the Shiite-led government over allegations of discrimination and mistreatment. The militants also would likely meet far stronger resistance, not only from government forces but by Shiite militias if they tried to advance on the capital.

Hundreds of young men crowded in front of the main army recruiting center in Baghdad on Thursday after the authorities urged Iraqis to help battle the insurgents.

A spokesman for ISIL said the group has old scores to settle with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government in Baghdad. The Iraqi leader, a Shiite, is trying to hold onto power after indecisive elections in April.

Al-Maliki has asked parliament to declare a state of emergency that would give him the "necessary powers" to run the country - something legal experts said could include powers to impose curfews, restrict public movements and censor the media.

However, Iraq's parliament was unable to vote on the issue on Thursday after it failed to reach a quorum, with only 128 of 325 MPs attending the planned emergency session, a government official said.

'Foreign funding' claims

On Thursday, Syrian state media accused Saudi Arabia and the West of complicity with ISIL as it captures territory in Syria and Iraq. Echoing claims often made by the government and its supporters, state media said Saudi and other allies of the Syrian opposition were funding and arming jihadist groups like ISIL.

"Terrorism is spreading in front of the eyes of the Western world ... and alongside it are the fingers of Saudi Arabia, providing money and arms," the Al-Thawra daily wrote.

"In the events in Iraq and the escalating terrorist campaign, no Western country is unaware of the role Saudi Arabia is playing in supporting terrorism and funding and arming different fronts and battles, both inside and outside Iraq and Syria."

The editorial also accused Qatar and Turkey of playing similar roles backing extremists "according to US demands or Israeli desires".

The White House said on Wednesday that the United States was "deeply concerned" about ISIL's continued aggression.


 Islamist fighters vow to capture Baghdad

Iraqi refugees from Mosul arrive at Khazir refugee camp outside Irbil, 350 km north of Baghdad, Iraq, on Wednesday. Associated Press

Islamist fighters vow to capture Baghdad

(China Daily 06/13/2014 page12)