Sunni militants capture 2 towns near Baghdad
The fresh gains by insurgents, spearheaded by fighters from the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, come as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government struggles to form a coherent response after the militants blitzed and captured the country’s second-largest city of Mosul, Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, smaller communities, as well as military and police bases — often after meeting little resistance from state security forces. The fast-moving rebellion, which also draws support from former Saddam-era figures and other disaffected Sunnis, has emerged as the biggest threat to Iraq’s stability since the U.S. withdrawal at the end of 2011. It has pushed the nation closer to a precipice that could partition the country into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish zones.
The assault also threatens to embroil Iraq more deeply in a wider regional conflict, already feeding off the chaos caused by the civil war in neighboring Syria.
Iran’s official IRNA news agency on Friday reported that former members of Tehran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard have announced their readiness to fight in Iraq against the Islamic State, while Iranian state TV quoted President Hassan Rouhani as saying his country will do all it can to fight terrorism next door. ‘The Islamic Republic of Iran will apply all its efforts on the international and regional levels to confront terrorism,’ the Iranian report said Rouhani told al-Maliki by phone.
Iran has built close political and economic ties with postwar Iraq, and many influential Iraqi Shiites have lived for stretches of time in the Islamic Republic. Iran earlier this week halted flights to Baghdad because of security concerns and said it was intensifying security measures along its borders.
Police officials said militants driving in machinegun-mounted pickups entered the two newly conquered towns in Diyala province late Thursday — Jalula, 125 kilometers (80 miles) northeast of Baghdad, and Sadiyah, 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of the Iraqi capital. Iraqi soldiers abandoned their posts there without any resistance, they said. Residents reached in Jalula said the gunmen issued an ultimatum to the Iraqi soldiers not to resist and give up their weapons in exchange for safe passage out of the city.