REINEKE FORD   ||   NEWS UPDATES

Sunni militants capture Iraqi city near Syria

Comment: Off

Demonstrators chant pro-al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as they carry al-Qaida flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, June 16, 2014. Sunni militants captured a key northern Iraqi town along the highway to Syria early on Monday, compounding the woes of Iraq’s Shiite-led government a week after it lost a vast swath of territory to the insurgents in the country’s north. (AP Photo)

Demonstrators chant pro-al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as they carry al-Qaida flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, June 16, 2014. Sunni militants captured a key northern Iraqi town along the highway to Syria early on Monday, compounding the woes of Iraq’s Shiite-led government a week after it lost a vast swath of territory to the insurgents in the country’s north. (AP Photo)

Demonstrators chant pro-al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as they wave al-Qaida flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, June 16, 2014. Sunni militants captured a key northern Iraqi town along the highway to Syria early on Monday, compounding the woes of Iraq’s Shiite-led government a week after it lost a vast swath of territory to the insurgents in the country’s north. (AP Photo)

Demonstrators chant pro-al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as the wave al-Qaida flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, June 16, 2014. Sunni militants captured a key northern Iraqi town along the highway to Syria early on Monday, compounding the woes of Iraq’s Shiite-led government a week after it lost a vast swath of territory to the insurgents in the country’s north. (AP Photo)

Demonstrators chant pro-al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as they wave al-Qaida flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, June 16, 2014. Sunni militants captured a key northern Iraqi town along the highway to Syria early on Monday, compounding the woes of Iraq’s Shiite-led government a week after it lost a vast swath of territory to the insurgents in the country’s north. (AP Photo)

Demonstrators chant pro-al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as they wave al-Qaida flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, June 16, 2014. Sunni militants captured a key northern Iraqi town along the highway to Syria early on Monday, compounding the woes of Iraq’s Shiite-led government a week after it lost a vast swath of territory to the insurgents in the country’s north. (AP Photo)

Buy AP Photo Reprints

BAGHDAD (AP) — Sunni militants captured a strategic northern Iraqi city along the highway to Syria on Monday, sending thousands of residents from an ethnic minority fleeing for safety and moving closer to their goal of linking areas under their control on both sides of the border.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that American drone strikes are an option in a bid to halt the dramatic sweep by insurgents over a swath of Iraq. He also said the Obama administration is willing to talk with Iran and does not rule out potential military cooperation between the two rivals to stop the rampage.

Already, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Gen. Ghasem Soleimani, is in Iraq, consulting with officials on how to roll back the al-Qaida-breakaway group leading the insurgent charge, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Iraqi security officials said. They said the U.S. government was notified in advance of Soleimani’s visit.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, also said that U.S. aircraft have in recent days flown reconnaissance missions over Iraq to gather intelligence on the militants’ positions.

Soleimani has been inspecting Iraqi defenses and reviewing plans with top commanders and Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militias, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the visit. He set up an operations room to coordinate militias.

He also visited the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala south of Baghdad, home to the most revered Shiite shrines, and areas west of Baghdad where government forces have faced off with Islamic militants for months. The Islamic State has threatened to march to Baghdad, Karbala and Najaf.

Soleimani is one of the most powerful figures in Iran’s security establishment. His Quds Force is a secretive branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard involved in external operations. In the mid-2000s’, it organized Shiite militias in a campaign of deadly violence against U.S. troops in Iraq, according to American officials. More recently, it has been involved in helping Syria’s President Bashar Assad in his fight against Sunni rebels.

The militants’ capture of Tal Afar on Monday was a key prize, as it sits on a main highway between the Syrian border and Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which the Islamic State captured last week.

At the same time, further south, Islamic State fighters were battling Monday with government troops at Romanah, a village near another of Iraq’s main border crossings into Syria in Sunni-majority Anbar province, according to a security official in Baghdad who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The Islamic State already controls territory in Syria in several regions abutting the Iraqi border. Its fighters move relatively freely along with money, weapons equipment across the porous, unprotected desert border. But seizing an actual border crossing would be a major symbolic gain for the group as it tries to carve out an enclave bridging the two countries.

Tal Afar, a city

Comments

comments

About the Author