Kurdish Peshmerga troops travel in a tank as they secure an
area in the town of Sulaiman Pek in Salahuddin province.
Sunni fighters have seized a border post on the Iraq-Syria
frontier in the nearby town of al-Qaim. REUTERS/Yahya Ahmad
Sunni fighters have seized a border post on the
Iraq-Syria frontier, security sources said, smashing a line
drawn by colonial powers a century ago in a campaign to create
an Islamic Caliphate from the Mediterranean Sea to Iran.
The militants, led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the
Levant (ISIL), first moved into the nearby town of al-Qaim on
Friday (local time), pushing out security forces, the sources
Once border guards heard that al-Qaim had fallen, they left
their posts and militants moved in, the sources said.
Sameer al-Shwiali, media adviser to the commander of Iraq's
anti-terrorist squad, told Reuters the Iraqi army was still
in control of al-Qaim.
Al-Qaim and its neighbouring Syrian counterpart Albukamal are
on a strategic supply route. A three-year-old civil war in
Syria has left most of eastern Syria in the hands of Sunni
militants, now including the Albukamal-Qaim crossing.
The Albukamal gate is run by al Qaeda's official Syria
branch, the Nusra Front, which has clashed with ISIL but has
sometimes agreed to localised truces when it suits both
The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
monitoring group, Rami Abdulrahman, said ISIL had pushed the
Nusra Front out from many areas of eastern Syria in the past
few days and their capture of al-Qaim will allow them to
quickly move to the Syrian side.
ISIL already controls territory around the Albukamal gate,
effectively pinching the Nusra Front between its forces in
Syria and those in neighbouring Iraq, said Abdulrahman, who
tracks the violence.
The al Qaeda offshoot has captured swathes of territory in
northwest and central Iraq, including the second city, Mosul.
They have seized large amounts of weaponry from the fleeing
Iraqi army and looted banks.
World powers are deadlocked over the crises in Iraq and
Syria. Shi'ite Iran has said it will not hesitate to protect
Shi'ite shrines if asked by Baghdad but Sunni-run Saudi
Arabia has warned Tehran to stay out of Iraq.
U.S. President Barack Obama has offered up to 300 U.S.
special forces advisers to help the Iraqi government
recapture territory seized by ISIL and other Sunni armed
groups across northern and western Iraq.
But he has held off granting a request for air strikes to
protect the government and renewed a call for Iraq's
long-serving Shi'ite prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, to do
more to overcome sectarian divisions that have fuelled
resentment among the Sunni minority.
The fighting has divided Iraq along sectarian lines. The
Kurds have expanded their zone in the northeast to include
the oil city of Kirkuk, which they regard as part of
Kurdistan, while Sunnis have taken ground in the west.
The government has mobilised Shi'ite militia to send
volunteers to the front lines.
In Baghdad's Shi'ite slum of Sadr City, thousands of fighters
wearing military fatigues marched through the streets.
They carried rocket-propelled grenades, semi-automatic rifles
and trucks had mounted long-range rockets, including the new
3-metre "Muqtada 1" missile, named after Shi'ite cleric
Muqtada Sadr, who has tens of thousands of followers.
Sadr has yet to throw his fighters into the recent wave of
fighting but has accused Maliki of mishandling the crisis.
"These brigades are sending a message of peace. They are the
brigades of peace. They are ready to sacrifice their souls
and blood for the sake of defending Iraq and its generous
people," a man on a podium said as the troops marched by.
The fighting, with strong sectarian overtones, is pushing the
country towards civil war.
Iraq's largest refinery, Baiji, 200 km (130 miles) north of
the capital near Tikrit, has been transformed into a
"Last night, three attacks on Baiji refinery were repelled
and attackers ... More than 70 terrorists were killed and
more than 15 vehicles were destroyed," said Major-General
Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for the Iraqi military's
He showed aerial footage of cars and people being blown up
but details of the fighting could not be independently
The conflict has displaced tens of thousands. On Saturday
evening, 15 people were wounded by a army helicopter strike
in the village of Al Bu Saif, south of Mosul city, medics
A health official in Mosul said the wounded included two
children and seven women. "Most of them are from the same
family. Three are in critical condition from shrapnel
wounds," he said.
As in Syria, ISIL has started to clash with other Sunni
militias in Iraq. In the town of Hawija, ISIL and members of
the Naqshbandi Army, made up of former army officers as well
as loyalists of Saddam Hussein's former ruling Baath party,
started fighting on Friday evening, witnesses said.
They said the clashes, in a dispute over power, killed 15
"Hawija is falling apart," a senior tribal figure from the
community said before the clashes. "There are so many groups
working with ISIL. Each group has its agenda."
Hawija could be seen as the spark for Iraq's current armed
Sunni insurgency. In April 2013, Sunni protesters said
security forces shot dead at least 50 of them. They were
demanding greater rights from the Shi'ite-led government.
After the killings, violence soared in Iraq.