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News, June 2014
Iran Rejects US Renewed Intervention in Iraq, World Powers Deadlocked, Growing Threat of Civil War
June 22, 2014
World powers deadlocked as Iraq under growing threat of civil war
BAGHDAD, June 22, 2014 (Xinhua) --
World powers are deadlocked over a deteriorating situation in Iraq, as Sunni insurgents, spearheaded by an al-Qaida breakaway group, advanced in a western province on Saturday and seized the first border crossing with Syria.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has scored sweeping victories across the country, overrunning several major cities in northwest and central Iraq, including the second city Mosul. They seized weaponry and looted banks while advancing.
It is worrying that the fighting, with ever stronger sectarian overtones, might be pushing the country towards a civil war.
BORDER CROSSING SEIZED
In the predominantly Sunni Anbar province, west of Baghdad, the al-Qaida breakaway group captured three strategic towns of al-Qaim, Rawah and Anah, according to security sources.
The sunni militants seized a large part of al-Qaim, a key city near the Syrian border, after fierce clashes with security forces on Saturday.
Al-Qaim and Albukamal on the Syrian side of the border are on a strategic supply route.
Syrian troops backed by allied tribesmen on Friday foiled an attack by the Sunni militants on the city, but the militants managed to seize large parts of the city earlier Saturday morning, a police source told Xinhua.
Some also feared that by seizing Rawah and Anah, the militants may be aimed at a key dam in Haditha city, which accommodates a hydraulic power station with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts. Its destruction would take a toll on Iraq's electrical supply and even trigger major flooding.
More than 2,000 troops were sent there to protect the dam.
As a sign of widening division, the Shiite held military-style parades in show of force on streets of several Iraqi cities, including the capital Baghdad.
The fighting has displaced tens of thousands of people and disrupted traffic.
PRIME MINISTER IN TROUBLE
The lightning offensive by Sunni militants has put Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki under growing pressure to form an inclusive government or step down.
Many have blamed the Shiite prime minister, who was criticized to become increasingly sectarian, for contributing to probably the worst crisis since the United States pulled back its troops at the end of 2001.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in Iraq, called on al-Maliki to reach out to the Kurdish and Sunni minorities.
The usually seclusive cleric said it is imperative to form an effective government that has broad national support, avoiding past mistakes and opening "new horizons toward a better future for all Iraqis."
The United States has long criticized al-Maliki for not giving the country's Sunni minority a greater role in the Shiite-dominated government. Several leading U.S. lawmakers even called for his resignation.
Al-Maliki's State of Law Coalition won 95 seats out of the 328 seats in parliament in April election, falling short of a majority needed to form the next government. The bloc must first form a majority coalition in the legislature.
VOICES OF THE WORLD
China on Thursday expressed concern over the deterioration of the security situation in Iraq and called for support for Iraq's reconstruction and anti-terrorism efforts.
The international community has common interests in Iraq's security and stability, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, pledging China is ready to provide assistance for Iraq within its capacity in its reconstruction and counter-terrorism efforts.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry would travel to the Middle East and Europe for talks on the Iraqi crisis, the State Department said on Friday.
Kerry will consult with U.S. partners and allies on measures to support security, stability, and the formation of an inclusive government in Iraq, said Jen Psaki, State Department spokeswoman.
U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Thursday his decision to dispatch up to 300 military advisers to the embattled country, where he said the United States is "prepared to take targeted and precise military action" if necessary.
The 300 military advisers, made up of special forces, will be focused on assessing how to best train, advise and support Iraqi security forces, rather than being directly involved in the fight, according to Obama.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, for his part, warned on Friday military strikes against Sunni militants in Iraq could be ineffective and backfire, urging feuding communities of the country to get united to fight against terrorists who have captured a vast area of the country's territory.
Iran rejects U.S. action in Iraq as militants push east
By Kamal Namaa
ANBAR Iraq Sun Jun 22, 2014 9:17am EDT
(Reuters) - Iran's supreme leader condemned U.S. intervention in Iraq on Sunday, accusing Washington of seeking control as Sunni insurgents drove toward Baghdad from the Syrian border and consolidated positions in the north and west.
The statement by Ayatollah Ali 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 are strongly opposed to U.S. and other intervention in Iraq," IRNA news agency quoted Khamenei as saying. "We donít approve of it as we believe the Iraqi government, nation and religious authorities are capable of ending the sedition."
The Iranian and the U.S. governments had seemed open to collaboration against al Qaeda offshoot the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which is fighting both the U.S.-backed, Shi'ite-led government of Iraq and the Iranian-backed president of Syria, whom Washington wants to see overthrown.
"American authorities are trying to portray this as a sectarian war, but what is happening in Iraq is not a war between Shi'ites and Sunnis," said Khamenei, who has the last word in the Islamic Republic's Shi'ite clerical administration.
Accusing Washington of using Sunni Islamists and followers of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, he added: "The U.S. is seeking an Iraq under its hegemony and ruled by its stooges."
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.
The Sunnis are united in opposition to what they see as Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's divisive sectarian rule.
ISIL thrust east from a newly captured Iraqi-Syrian border post on Sunday, taking three towns in Iraq's western Anbar province after seizing the frontier crossing near the town of Qaim on Saturday, witnesses and security sources said.
The gains have helped ISIL secure supply lines to Syria, where it has exploited the chaos of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad to seize territory. The group aims to create an Islamic caliphate straddling the desert border and has held Falluja, just west of Baghdad, since the start of the year.
The fall of Qaim represented another step towards the realization of ISIL's military goals, erasing a frontier drawn by British and French colonial map-makers a century ago.
ISIL's gains on Sunday included the towns of Rawa and Ana along the Euphrates river east of Qaim, as well as the town of Rutba further south on the main highway from Jordan to Baghdad.
A military intelligence official said Iraqi troops had withdrawn from Rawa and Ana after ISIL militants attacked the settlements late on Saturday: "Troops withdrew from Rawa, Ana and Rutba this morning and ISIL moved quickly to completely control these towns," the official said.
"They took Ana and Rawa this morning without a fight."
Military spokesman Major-General Qassim al-Moussawi said the withdrawal from the towns was intended to ensure "command and control" and to allow troops to regroup and retake the areas.
"The withdrawal of the units was for the purpose of reopening the areas," he told reporters in Baghdad.
The towns are on a strategic supply route between ISIL's positions in Iraq and in eastern Syria, where the group has taken a string of towns and strategic positions from rival Sunni forces fighting Assad over the past few days.
The last major Syrian town not in ISIL's hands in the region, the border town of Albukamal, is controlled by the Nusra Front, al Qaeda's branch in Syria which has clashed with ISIL but also agreed to local truces at times.
ISIL, which began as the Islamic State of Iraq and was disowned by al Qaeda's central organization in February after pursuing its own goals in Syria and clashing with the Nusra Front, has pushed south down the Tigris valley since capturing Mosul with barely a fight two weeks ago, seizing towns and taking large amounts of weaponry from the fleeing Iraqi army.
Overnight, ISIL fighters attacked the town of al-Alam, north of Tikrit, according to witnesses and police in the town. The attackers were repelled by security forces and tribal fighters, they said, adding that two ISIL fighters had been killed.
State television reported that "anti-terrorism forces" in coordination with the air force had killed 40 ISIL members and destroyed five vehicles in fighting in Tikrit, home town of Saddam Hussein, the Sunni leader ousted by U.S. forces in 2003.
There was a lull in fighting at Iraq's largest refinery, Baiji, 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.
The ISIL advance has been joined by Sunni tribal militias and former members of Saddam's Baath Party, united in their hatred of Maliki and Shi'ite politicians brought to power in U.S.-backed elections.
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.
More than 10 people were killed in the clashes in the area, southwest of the northern oil hub of Kirkuk, the sources said.
On Friday evening, ISIL and Naqshbandi fighters began fighting each other in Hawija, where a crackdown on a Sunni protest over a year ago triggered unrest leading to the current insurgency. Iraqi and Western officials believe that as ISIL and other Sunni factions start to consolidate their control of newly won territories, they may start turning on each other.
U.S. President Barack Obama has offered up to 300 U.S. special forces advisers to help the Iraqi government recapture territory but has held off granting a request for air strikes.
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.
The government has mobilized Shi'ite militias and regular citizens to fight on the frontlines and defend the capital - thousands of fighters in military fatigues marched in a Shi'ite slum of the capital Baghdad on Saturday.
(Additional reporting by a correspondent in Tikrit, Ahmed Rasheed and Raheem Salman in Baghdad and Mehrdad Balali in Dubai; Writing by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)
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