MESOP FLASH : Kurdish Peshmerga troops repulse jihadists’ offensive north of Baghdad

Dpa + AFP – 13.6.2014 – DIYALA,— Kurdish military Peshmerga forces have repelled an offensive by radical Sunni militants, who are surging towards Baghdad after having seized cities in northern Iraq from fleeing government troops, local officials said Friday.

Kurdish Peshmerga troops took on fighters from the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and Sham ISIS, who mounted an overnight attack at a security checkpoint on the outskirts of Diyala province north of Baghdad, local official Anwar Hussein told independent news site Alsumaria News.

“The Peshmerga are now fully responsible for security in the area after (government) army and police units withdrew from their posts.” He added that a large numbers of the Peshmerga – the official military forces of the autonomous region of Kurdistan – have arrived in Diyala’s town of Jalawla, 125 kilometres north-east of Baghdad, “to fill in the security void.” Militants from ISIS – a splinter al-Qaeda group – have tightened their grip in Iraq’s northern Sunni heartland in recent days and are pressing ahead towards the capital.

Iraqi forces clashed Friday with militants advancing on the city of Baquba, just 60 kilometres (40 miles) north of Baghdad, on Friday as an offensive spearheaded by jihadists drew closer to the Iraqi capital, AFP reported. Security forces were battling insurgents on the outskirts of Muqdadiyah, 35 kilometres (23 miles) northeast of Baquba, police and army officers said.

Earlier this week, the militant group seized the northern province of Nineveh and large swathes of the province of Salah al-Din further south amid a stunning collapse of the government security troops. ISIS has thrived in recent months in neighbouring Syria, where it has captured considerable territory in the east of the war-torn country along the border with Iraq.

The group already controls the Iraqi city of Fallujah, a key city of the mostly Sunni western province of Anbar. Iraq has seen increasing violence over the last year, much of it blamed on ISIS and aimed at security forces and Shiite civilians. The Shiite-led government’s response, with security sweeps and mass arrests, has alienated Iraq’s Sunni minority from which ISIS and other rebel groups draw their support. In Washington, President Barack Obama said Thursday that the US was “looking at all the options” to help the Iraqi government. The State Department said that this did not include sending US troops, all of whom were pulled out of Iraq in late 2011 after an eight-year occupation following the 2003 invasion.