John Kerry lands in Baghdad, Sunni militants seize strategic town, airport

REUTERS
Published Jun 23, 2014, 7:34 pm IST
Updated Feb 23, 2016, 2:43 pm IST
John Kerry's visit came after Sunni militants took strongholds of key Iraqi town
US Secretary of State John Kerry. (Photo: AP)
 US Secretary of State John Kerry. (Photo: AP)
Baghdad: US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Baghdad Monday to push for stability, as Sunni militants overran a strategic Shiite town and an airport, tightening their grip on north Iraq.
  
Flying in from Jordan on a visit which the State Department had sought to keep secret amid security concerns, Kerry met with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and was to hold talks with Iraqi leaders across the political and communal spectrum.
  
Kerry "will discuss US actions underway to assist Iraq as it confronts this threat from ISIL and urge Iraqi leaders to move forward as quickly as possible with its government formation process to forge a government," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said ahead of the meetings.
  
Iraqi security forces are struggling to hold their ground in the face of an insurgent onslaught that has seized major areas of five provinces, displaced hundreds of thousands of people and sparked fears that the country could be torn apart.
  
Maliki's security spokesman said Monday that "hundreds" of Iraqi soldiers have been killed since the insurgents launched their offensive on June 9.
  
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center left, meets with Iraqi Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki, right, in Baghdad, on Monday. (Photo: AP)
 
The announcement on television by Lieutenant General Qassem Atta is the most specific information provided so far by the government on losses sustained by the  security forces.
  
The militants, led by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), consolidated their control of the north of the country by capturing the Shiite-majority town of Tal Afar and its airport, a local official and witnesses said.
  
"The town of Tal Afar and the airport... are completely under the control of the militants," the official said on condition of anonymity.
  
Witnesses said security forces had departed the town after days of heavy fighting, and confirmed that militants were in control.
  
Atta said that security forces were still fighting in the Tal Afar area, but added that: "Even if we withdrew from Tal Afar or any other area, this does not mean that it is a defeat."
  
The town, which is located along a strategic corridor to Syria, had been the largest in the northern province of Nineveh not to fall to militants.
  
The latest advance came after insurgents at the weekend swept into the towns of Rawa and Ana in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, after taking the Al-Qaim border crossing with Syria.
  
The government said its forces made a "tactical" withdrawal from the towns, control of which allows the militants to widen a strategic route to neighbouring Syria where they also hold swathes of countryside along the Euphrates river valley.
 
Iraqi Shiite Turkmen gunmen gather as they prepare to patrol around
the village of Taza Khormato in the northern oil rich province of
Kirkuk, Iraq. (Photo: AP)
 
 
Militants seize more Iraq towns as US warns on spillover
 
Sunni militants have advanced in western Iraq and killed 21 people after security forces withdrew from several towns, as US President Barack Obama warned the offensive could spill over into other regional
nations.
 
The losses were the latest in a series of setbacks for Iraqi forces, which are struggling to hold their ground in the face of an insurgent onslaught that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and sparked fears that the country could be torn 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 said.
 
They then gunned down 21 local leaders in Rawa and Ana in two days of violence, according to officers and doctors.
 
The government said its forces made a "tactical" withdrawal from the towns, control of which allows the
militants to open a strategic route to neighbouring Syria where they also hold swathes of countryside along the Euphrates river valley.
 
ISIL aims to create an Islamic state incorporating both Iraq and Syria, where the group has become a major force in the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.
 
Washington wants Arab states to bring pressure on Iraq's leaders to speed up government formation, which has made little headway since April elections, and has tried to convince them ISIL poses as much of a threat to them as to Iraq.
 
"We're going to have to be vigilant generally," US President Barack Obama said in an interview aired on Sunday on CBS.
 
Obama said ISIL's offensive could destabilise other countries in the region and "spill over into some of our
allies like Jordan." 
 
US leaders have stopped short of calling for Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to step down, but there is little doubt that they feel he has squandered the opportunity to rebuild Iraq since US troops withdrew in 2011.
 
The seizure of Al-Qaim leaves just one of three official border crossings with Syria in federal government hands. The third is controlled by Kurdish forces.
 
Militants already hold areas of the western desert province of Anbar which abuts the Syrian border, after
capturing this year all of one city and parts of another.
 
Near Anbar's capital Ramadi, parts of which are held by anti-government fighters, a suicide bombing and a car bomb killed six people and wounded eight, officials said.
 
Iraqi armed Shiite militiamen, followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr,
parade in the northern oil rich province of Kirkuk, Iraq. (Photo: AP)
 
 
- 69 detainees killed-   
  
As Kerry began his visit, 69 detainees were killed in an attack by militants on a convoy carrying them near the town of Hashimiyah, in Babil province.
  
One policeman and eight gunmen were also killed in clashes that erupted during the attack in the Hashimiyah area of Babil province, according to a police captain and a doctor. It was not immediately clear how the detainees died.
  
ISIL aims to create an Islamic state incorporating both Iraq and Syria, where the group has become a major force in the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.
  
Washington wants Arab states to bring pressure on Iraq's leaders to speed up government formation, which has made little headway since April elections, and has tried to convince them ISIL poses as much of a threat to them as to Iraq.
  
Washington's top diplomat warned all countries, particularly in the Gulf, that "there is no safety margin whatsoever in funding a group like ISIL."
  
The group, which has been at the forefront of the insurgent offensive, has commandeered an enormous quantity of cash and resources as a result of the advance, bolstering coffers that were already the envy of militant groups around the world.
  
US leaders have stopped short of calling for Maliki to step down, but there is little doubt that they feel he has squandered the opportunity to rebuild Iraq since US troops withdrew in 2011.
 
An Iraqi refugee girl imitates holding a camera, as she stands outside
her tent at a camp for displaced Iraqis who fled from Mosul and other
towns, in Khazer area outside Irbil, north Iraq, on Sunday. (Photo: AP)
 
 
Watch Video: Sunni rebels seize more towns in Iraq
 




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