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Iraqi troops show strength, but ISIS captures key crossing

The seizure of Al-Qaim leaves just one of three official border crossings with Syria in the hands of the central government.

Armed Shiite militiamen, followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, parade in the northern oil rich province of Kirkuk.
Armed Shiite militiamen, followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, parade in the northern oil rich province of Kirkuk.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

SHIITE FIGHTERS PARADED in Baghdad in a dramatic show of force aimed at Sunni militants who seized a Syrian border crossing, widening a western front in an offensive threatening to rip Iraq apart.

Meanwhile, Washington readied a new diplomatic bid to unite Iraq’s fractious leaders and repel insurgents whose lightning offensive has displaced hundreds of thousands, alarmed the world and put Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki under growing pressure.

And in a sign the broad alliance of jihadists and anti-government elements behind the assault may be fracturing, internecine clashes killed 17 fighters in northern Iraq.

Security forces announced they were holding their own in several areas north of Baghdad, but officials said insurgents led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadist group seized one of three official border crossings with Syria.

The takeover came a day after 34 members of the security forces were killed in the border town, giving the fighters greater cross-border mobility into conflict-hit Syria.

The seizure of Al-Qaim leaves just one of three official border crossings with Syria in the hands of the central government. The third is controlled by Kurdish forces.

Anti-government fighters already hold parts of the western province of Anbar, which abuts the Syrian border, after taking all of one city and parts of another earlier in the year.

It is unclear what impact the latest move will have on the overall offensive, as militants already have free rein along most of the 600-kilometre (375-mile) border, neither side of which is controlled by government forces.

Internecine clashes

ISIS aims to create an Islamic state that will incorporate both Iraq and Syria, where the group has become a major force in the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.

Seventeen fighters were killed in Friday clashes between ISIS and the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandiyah Order (JRTN), another Sunni insurgent group, in militant-held territory in northern Kirkuk province.

The Sunni insurgents driving the offensive are made up of a broad alliance of other groups, such as loyalists of now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein.

Analysts say it is unclear if the alliance can survive given its disparate ideologies.

The battle for the strategic northern town of Tal Afar was in its seventh day, Maliki’s security spokesman said Saturday, with government forces holding some neighbourhoods.

© AFP 2014

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