MESOP Iraq Daily: Insurgents Take More Towns and Border Crossing


By Scott Lucas June 22, 2014 19:59 Updated – UPDATE 0820 GMT: Al Jazeera English reports a further insurgent advance from western Iraq towards Baghdad.

Correspondent Imran Khan says insurgents are negotiating with tribal leaders to enter Haditha, northwest of Ramadi. Khan said the Iraqi army has withdrawn to Khan al-Baghdadi and the Ein al-Asad military base.Insurgents made further advances in their two-week offensive in Iraq, taking three towns in the west of the country and a crossing on the Syrian border.The insurgents strengthened their position in Anbar Province in western Iraq, where they claimed parts of the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in January, with the capture of Rawa, Ana, and Husaybah.

The towns are on a highway from Syria to Baghdad, with Husaybah only 100 km (62 miles) from Baghdad.

The fighters also moved into the Al Qaim border crossing after a day-long battle in which they killed at least 30 Iraqi troops.

An Iraqi official said, “The insurgents looted the police station…, released detainees and took equipment like weapons and cars and then burned down the building.”

An Iraqi military spokesman, General Qassim Atta, tried to portray the defeat as a calculated redeployment, “As a tactical procedure to reopen the military forces in al-Jazeera and al-Badiyah security operation field, the security forces in Rawaa, Ana and Qaim withdraw from these areas to reinforce other troops in other areas.”

Al Qaim is across from Deir Ez Zor Province in eastern Syria, where the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham has been battling Syrian insurgents.

The insurgents have also taken Tal Afar in northwest Iraq near the Syrian border. The gains support their objective of a corridor in which they can move weapons, supplies, and men between the two countries.

Al Qaim sits across from the Syrian border town of Abu Kamal, which ISIS has been trying to take from the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra.

ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra turned against each other in spring 2013 when the Iraqi group tried to claim control of the jihadist movement in Syria. The dispute eventually led to ISIS’ break with Al Qa’eda.

In Baghdad, the followers of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr made a high-profile challenge to both insurgents and Shia Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Saturday, as thousands of supporters and militia Sadr City in eastern Baghdad.

“We are following our leader to liberate our country from Da’ish. They are all terrorists,” said Haider Taha, 20 years old, as he and his friends sat with AK-47s in a pickup truck.

Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army challenged American occupation for years before the cleric focused on a political course. He has worked with al-Maliki, but has distanced himself as the Prime Minister’s accumulation of power has alienated some Shia as well as Sunnis and Kurds.

Kerry Repeats US Call for “Unity” Government, But Denies Pushing PM Maliki Out

US Secretary of State John Kerry has repeated Washington’s call for a “unity” government without acknowledging an American desire to remove Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Speaking in Egypt at the start of a regional tour on Sunday, Kerry said the US wanted Iraqis to find an inclusive leadership to fight back against the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham; however, he continued:

The United States is not engaged in picking or choosing or advocating for any one individual, or series of individuals, to assume the leadership of Iraq. That is up to the Iraqi people and we have made that clear since day one.

Kerry denied US responsibility for the crisis, “What is happening in Iraq is not happening because of the United States in terms of the current crisis. The United States shed blood and worked hard for years to provide Iraqis the opportunity to have their own governments.”

Double Bombing Kills 10 in Ramadi

A double bombing has struck a funeral ceremony for an Iraqi police officer in southeast Ramadi, west of Baghdad, killing 10 people and wounding 22.

A car bomb exploded, then a suicide bomber detonated his explosives.

1st-Hand: Division Among Sunnis on Pursuing Insurgency

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reports for The Guardian from a cafe in Baghdad:

The man, a Sunni fighter in the last round of civil war, stole a concerned glance at the men around him, some playing cards or backgammon.

“There are many men willing to start the fight again but the problem is there is no fear,” he said. People were not sufficiently worried about the situation, he said, and did not realise there was no way back. “If we string two Shia on poles for everyone to see, the militias will retaliate and all the men in the area will be forced to carry arms. This is how we start bringing our men together.”

A broad-shouldered Sunni commander next to him leaned forward and assured his friend, saying insurgents had set up sleeping cells and were waiting for zero hour to take the war into the heart of the Iraqi capital. “At zero hour, we start our fight by assassinating all the spies and agents. Our neighbourhood, like every Sunni neighbourhood, has many spies and informers. When we assassinate the leaders, the ranks will collapse.”

Others beyond the cafe are not so sure. An MP worries:

This will lead to a chaotic and fragmented Sunni war. “What is your programme?” I ask the Sunnis. “Maliki is corrupt and his army is sectarian, fine, but what is the programme? A Sunni region? And who will lead it? ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham)?”

Video: Fuel Shortages Across Northern Iraq

Al Jazeera English’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid reports on fuel shortages across northern Iraq after insurgents took cities such as Mosul and the Baiji refinery, which processes all oil from the north of the country:

Click for pictures