Group claims mass killings of Iraqi troops, as militants battle security forces 50 miles from Baghdad – follow latest developments – follow latest developments
The Iraqi official confirmed numerous eyewitness reports that the militants flew a captured helicopter
Interesting if true. It is not a one nutter show according to Mosul governor. Although he is perhaps not in the best position to speak freely.
“If you’re in an antique shop there’s a sign, ‘If you broke it, you bought it,’ ” the official, who is an adviser to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, said. “I am not saying the Americans are responsible for everything, but they did not leave a well-trained army and they left us without any real air support, and the Obama administration really shares much of the blame.”
The Maliki adviser said that the Iraqi government wanted air support and intelligence sharing in particular from the United States. So far, the adviser said, he was not aware of any direct Iranian role in Iraq, nor the presence of any Iranian units on Iraqi territory. “What changes this is if the U.S. does not help, Iran will come in and this is really dangerous,” he said. “If they don’t help I don’t think Iran will let the Iraqi government collapse, they will fight and fight very hard.”
In an opinion piece for CNN, Derek Harvey, a former senior intelligence official who worked on Iraq from 2003-2009, has pointed the finger at Malaki for the chaos in Iraq, blaming prime minister for promoting sectarianism over the national interest and purging the security services of Kurds and Sunnis in favour of Shia loyalists. It is no great surprise a US intel figure is reticent to blame the US – or Paul Bremer – for dismantling the Baathist Iraqi state in 2003 and hand picking Malaki itself.
Al-Maliki’s “Shiafication” of the Iraqi security forces has been less about the security of Iraq than the security of Baghdad and his regime.
19.22 ISIS fighters have surrounded the Baiji oil refinery — having captured the town on Wednesday — but have not yet moved into the complex. It should be noted that Obama said today that if ISIS seized control of major refineries the that other oil producers in the Middle East would need to help “pick up the slack”.
19.08 China said on Friday that it was watching security developments in Iraq closely after Islamist fighters captured two more towns in a southward sweep, and offered the Baghdad government whatever help it can give.
China is the top foreign player in Iraq’s oilfields, which are the largest in the Middle East open to foreign investment, and has a natural interest in the country’s stability.
Long before the city’s dramatic fall, ISIS, which formed in April 2013, and its precursor, al Qaeda in Iraq, were operating openly for years in Mosul, killing civilians like Bahnam with impunity, manipulating the justice system, and even collecting so-called “jihad taxes” from local businesses. And yet Iraq’s extensive military and security apparatus did almost nothing.
A Foreign Policy feature describes how ISIS was wreaking havoc in Mosul long before it took over the city.
Also, following the money, NPR’s Alice Fordham in April showed how ISIS has run protection rackets and extorted Iraqi citizens in Mosul to fund its operations in Syria.
US talks with iran currently focused on resolving nuclear issue, not Iraq – Reuters quotes a state department spokeswoman. This should be taken with an unhealthy pinch of salt.
“You can call it a gift from heaven for the Kurdish leadership”.
Interesting piece from CSM on how the Kurds can help Baghdad deal with ISIS at the price of greater autonomy and a greater share of the county’s oil revenues.
ISIS have tweeted the decapitated head of what appears to be an Iraqi policeman with the sentence ‘This is our football, it’s made of skin #World Cup’, followed by a boast of having slaughtered 1,700 soldiers.
Maliki has said Iraqi security forces have begun clearing cities of “terrorists”. Security forces “began their work to clear all our dear cities from these terrorists,” Maliki said in a statement, without giving details of where or when operations had started.
Maliki travelled to the embattled city of Samarra today, areas of which militants took last week and sought to advance into again on Wednesday.
A Foreign Office spokesman has stated:
“We are closely monitoring the situation and keeping it under review.
“We are aware of a very small number of British nationals in affected areas and are providing consular assistance.”
Iran has sent about 500 Revolutionary Guard troops to fight alongside Iraqi government security forces in Diyala province, a senior security official in Baghdad told CNN.
Mr Obama ruled out sending troops to Iraq. He said that he may order some kind of military action, but that it will not be overnight, and that it is important to ensure that if they do take action, the intelligence is there to make sure it is effective.
He also emphasises once again that US miltary involvement must go hand in hand with Iraqi efforts towards reconciliation.
“The United States is not going to simply involve itself in military aciton in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis”, he says, suggesting that if that is not in place, the same situation would arise once the US left again.
The press conference has now ended.
Barack Obama speaks on Iraq on the White House lawn
The US president has been asked about oil. He says that if ISIS seized control of major refineries, that would be a major concern. The US is going to talk to other oil suppliers to try and ensure “a backstop”, though so far there has not been disruption.
Mr Obama says Iraq’s neighbours have an obligation also to play their part in aiding the country’s security. He says the US will pursue intensive diplomacy as actors need to resolve their differences without resorting to violence or relying on the US military.
He is now taking questions. He says there is the danger of serious sectarian violence if Shia religious sites are attacked. He says that American taxpayers and troops made a huge investment to give Iraqis an opportunity at stability and security.
“But ultimately they are going to have to seize it… we are not going to be able to do it for them,” he says. Given Iraq’s difficult history, interventions by the US or any outside nation “are not going to solve the problem over the long term”, and factions within Iraq have to reach an accommodation themselves, Mr Obama says.
He raises the prospect of “selective actions” against terrorists combined with efforts to rebuild countries shattered by sectarian war “and that’s not an easy task”.
Barack Obama is speaking on the White House lawn. He says he’s asked his security team to prepare a range of options that could help secure Iraq and that he will be considering these options in the coming days. He says that it should not only be considered a military issue though, but one of a failure to address sectarian differences.
Mr Obama says that any action the US takes has to be accompanied by serious efforts on the part of the Iraqi government to overcome these differences.
As reports come in that members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime may have been involved in the uprising, here is a link to our chief foreign correspondent Colin Freeman’s piece from last year on the Naqshabandi Army, a Ba’athist insurgent group run by Izzat Ibrahim al Douri, one of Saddam’s former henchmen.
Izzat Ibrahim al Douri
BREAKING: Iran has sent three units of its Revolutionary Guards to Iraq in the past few days, a senior official in Baghdad has told CNN. More when we have it.
Bob Tait, our correspondent in Jerusalem, reports that several prayer leaders in Iran said today that the Islamic Republic is prepared to fight against ISIS forces in Iraq:
Prayer leaders delivering sermons throughout Iran delivered a unified message on Friday. Ayatollah Mohsen Mojtahed Shabestari, Friday prayer leader in the northern city of Tabriz, said Iran was ready drive the ISIS forces from Iraq, calling them a danger to holy Shia shrines in the country. “We will clear Iraq of terrorist and excommunicated groups if the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s highest cleric and most powerful figures] allows us to do so,” he told worshippers.
Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported today that former members of the powerful Revolutionary Guard have also announced their readiness to join the battle against ISIS.
US President Barack Obama is to make a statement at 11.50 EST (16.50 UK), the White House has just announced. Will he order air strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq?
More on the social media blackout being reported by Iraqi internet users – technicians from two major service providers have confirmed that Iraq’s communications ministry has ordered internet and mobile companies to block websites and apps including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Viber.
The ministry has not commented but it is thought that officials believe ISIS militants are using social networks to coordinate attacks.
As John Kerry, the US secretary of state, says the US will move quickly in response to the Iraq crisis and President Barack Obama mulls air strikes, CNN reports that US military planners fear that such aerial attacks could “prove futile”:
Among other complications, U.S. officials don’t have good intelligence about where militants are. Even if they did, the militants don’t have the type of targets — command and control centers, air defense sites, military bases — that lend themselves to aerial attacks, the officials said on condition of not being identified.
CNN goes on to detail the potential targeting problems identified by officials.
• The U.S. lacks credible, specific intelligence about where ISIS fighters are;
• Using drones to strike fighters moving on vehicles still requires very specific intelligence to assure who is being struck. Moreover, they say, drone strikes can kill individuals, but they don’t change the military calculation or balance of power on the ground;
• There’s no one on the ground, such as Air Force tactical air controllers, to call in precise airstrikes;
• ISIS doesn’t have fixed positions such as command and control centers, air defense sites, military bases and radar facilities that could be hit to degrade the group’s military capability; and,
• Fighters may be spread out inside population centers, which means airstrikes could risk civilian casualties and property destruction at the hands of the U.S. military.
Iraq’s foreign minister has drawn parallels between the retreat of the country’s security forces in the face of the ISIS onslaught to the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s army in 2003, in an interview published in Asharq al-Awsat newspaper today.
“It is the same collapse that happened in the ranks of the Iraqi armed forces when American forces entered Iraq,” Hoshyar Zebari said.
They “took off military uniforms and put on civilian clothes and went to their houses, leaving weapons and equipment” behind, he said.
Security forces have resisted the militants in some areas but in others, such as the city of Mosul, abandoned their posts and vehicles, threw away their uniforms and fled.
Mr Zebari also noted that ISIS has collaborated with other militant groups in the offensive.
ISIS is coordinating “with the Naqshbandiya Order and some extremist Islamist factions and Ba’ath leaders from the former army,” he said, referring to Saddam’s forces.
Earlier, Saddam’s daughter Raghad Saddam Hussein told a London-based Arabic newspaper that former aides, army officers and Ba’athists loyal to her toppled late father had played a key role in the capture of Mosul.
Locals clean up after ISIS moves into Mosul, encountering little resistance
Children play with a Iraqi army helment left behind by fleeing forces in Mosul
Watch John Kerry and William Hague discuss the situation in Iraq and the US and UK responses. Unlike in 2002, the two countries differ in their position on military involvement – intervention is being considered as an option in Washington, whereas Britain has ruled it out entirely:
AFP has produced this profile of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, “a virtual recluse” but highly influential with the country’s Shia majority:
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who called on Friday for Iraqis to take up arms against “terrorists”, is the country’s top Shiite cleric and is revered by millions.
The reclusive Sistani enjoys the kind of following Iraq’s Shiite politicians can only dream of, and his call to fight militants who seized swathes of the country this week could give a major boost to recruitment.
“Citizens who are able to bear arms and fight terrorists… should volunteer and join the security forces to achieve this holy purpose,” his representative announced on his behalf during Friday prayers in the shrine city of Karbala.
“He who sacrifices for the cause of defending his country and his family and his honour will be a martyr,” he added.
The Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) and allied groups launched an offensive on Monday, taking all of one province and chunks of three more.
Security forces have failed to halt the drive, with some fleeing after throwing away their uniforms and abandoning their positions.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki responded by announcing the government will arm and equip citizens who volunteer to fight, and thousands have turned out at recruitment centres to answer the call.
Sistani, born in the Iranian town of Arshad in 1930, started his religious studies at the age of five, and became a grand ayatollah in 1992.
Despite his huge following, he has generally stayed aloof of Iraqi politics, but has made rare but important interventions since the US-led invasion in 2003.
The elderly cleric repeatedly called for calm during Iraq’s brutal sectarian conflict from 2006 to 2008 and threw his weight behind democratic elections.
In late 2003, he demanded that a convention of Iraqis draw up a new constitution and that a transitional government be directly elected by the people, a request the US-led occupation authority was only able to resist through UN mediation.
The following year, Sistani intervened again when an uprising against the US-led occupation by the Mahdi Army militia of anti-US Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr triggered fighting with US troops in the heart of the shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala.
He returned from medical treatment in London to a hero’s welcome in Iraq, in time to stop a joint US-Iraqi force from launching a final assault on Sadr’s forces who were cornered in the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf.
A tireless proponent of elections since Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsed in 2003, the ageing Sistani used his humble quarters in Najaf as a base to guide the country’s Shiite majority to power through the ballot box.
After pressuring the US to expedite the path to democratic elections, the cleric was the guiding force behind the creation of a pan-Shiite coalition in Iraq’s parliament.
And he has also used his standing among the country’s Shiite Arab majority to urge voters to turn out in strength for parliamentary and provincial elections.
But Sistani’s decision-making process remains a mystery and little is known about what really goes on in his spartan home in a heavily-guarded alley in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, where he has remained a virtual recluse after years of house arrest during dictator Saddam Hussein’s rule.
Observers say the call to arms issued by the influential Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is of enormous significance and will reverberate throughout tjhe country as well as the wider world of Shia Islam. Conservative MP Rory Stewart comments on Twitter that “Sistani is the key player and has always been cautious. This call for Shia to take arms will have an immense impact in Iraq.” Meanwhile Ali Riazi of NGO the International Rescue Committee, warns that the call “will foment further sectarian violence and jeopardise civilians”.
Shia tribal leaders in Baghdad chant anti-ISIS slogans
It is impossible to confirm at present whether the ISIS claim on Twitter to have executed 1,700 Shia soldiers in Iraq is accurate, or an exaggeration intended to create fear among the Shia populace. But earlier, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, expressed “extreme alarm” at the situation and spoke of verified reports of “summary executions and extrajudicial killings”. Some of the reports cited suggest that Iraqi security forces are being purged, though it is unclear whether there is an ethnic dimension to all of the killings.
According to the UN mission in Iraq, “the number of people killed in recent days may run into the hundreds and the number of wounded is said to be approaching one thousand,” Rupert Colville, Ms Pillay’s spokesman, said in Geneva.
He said UN had received reports of horrific abuses after the capture of Iraq’s second city Mosul, one such case involving the “summary executions of Iraqi soldiers (and) of 17 civilians” thought to have been working for the police, in one particular street in Mosul on 11 June.
A court employee and 12 people believed to have been serving with Iraqi security services or police had been executed in the central Mosul neighbourhood of Dawasa, he added.
Mr Colville also pointed to reports that ISIS militants had freed and armed prisoners, who were now out searching for those they believed were responsible for their incarceration to exact revenge.
In one case, former prisoners reportedly “went to Tikrit and killed seven former police officers who had worked in the prison,” he said.
“There are also reports that ISIL check points are specifically targeting former soldiers and police, especially one from one particular tribe – the Jarobi tribe – which is perceived as being close to the government,” he added.
Mr Colville also reported the suicide of four women in Mosul who had reportedly either been raped or forced to marry ISIS militants.
Ms Pillay “will be warning parties to the conflict that they are obliged under international law to treat members of the armed forces who have laid down their arms or are hors de combat humanely,” he said.
“Murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture constitute war crimes,” he added.
There are widespread reports coming in via Twitter that the Iraqi government has blocked access to Facebook in parts of the country, in an apparent attempt to prevent it being used by ISIS to coordinate attacks. Users in several cities have reported being redirected to a page which says the site has been blocked by the Iraqi ministry of communications. Some say Twitter access is also down. The blocks do not appear to be countrywide, however.
BREAKING: Iraqi army helicopters have fired rockets at a mosque in Tikrit, according to local officials and witnesses cited by Reuters.
Inevitably, this week’s events in Iraq have reignited the debate about the wisdom and efficacy of the 2003 invasion. Over at the Guardian, John McTernan – Tony Blair’s director of political operations during the British deployment in the country – defends the decision, insisting it was right to topple Saddam but arguing that Britain has the responsibility to “go back to Iraq to rescue democracy”:
Supporting the Middle East’s second full democracy after Israel is still the noble cause it was when I was in No 10 working for Tony Blair, and when I worked in the prime minister’s office in Baghdad. Complex conflicts need strategic patience – the kind that won the cold war. It will take as least as long to rebuild Iraq as it took Saddam Hussein to destroy it.
But what are the views on the Twittersphere? Here’s a selection of posts -we’ll be looking at some more later on. If you’d like to weigh in, tweet me @hannahkstrange:
<noframe>Twitter: Chris Murphy – What is happening in Iraq now is awful, but it is a consequence of our invasion, not our withdrawal.</noframe>
<noframe>Twitter: SeÃ¡n Wallace – Did they really believe that this war would end wars? <a href=”https://twitter.com/search?src=hash&q=%23Iraq” target=”_blank”>#Iraq</a> <a href=”http://www.twitter.com/georgegalloway” target=”_blank”>@georgegalloway</a></noframe>
<noframe>Twitter: Mark Belnick – Major cause of <a href=”https://twitter.com/search?src=hash&q=%23Iraq” target=”_blank”>#Iraq</a> collapse is Ob’s wdrawal w/o a Status of Forces Agrmt. An obvious blunder by an oblivious Prez. <a href=”http://t.co/e7O2e5FYMN” target=”_blank”>http://t.co/e7O2e5FYMN</a></noframe>
David Cameron has spoken with the secretary general of Nato, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, about the security situation in Iraq, about how the trans-Atlantic alliance might reinforce the ability of countries threatened by violent extremism to deal with the problem.
Downing Street stressed that there was no discussion of any possible Nato deployment of military resources in the country, a notion that has been entirely ruled out.
Meanwhile William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, has been speaking on the crisis alongside John Kerry, the US secretary of state, at a London summit on sexual violence. He said the pair had discussed the “extremely serious” situation in the country and had “grave concern” about ISIS’s aggression.
“We will continue to work urgently within the UN Security Council to help concert the wider international response,” he said.
Mr Hague added that the Department for International Development has already sent a team to northern Iraq to see what humanitarian help the UK can offer.
Foreign Office minister Hugh Robertson has also held talks in London with Iraq’s foreign minister and next week Mr Cameron will chair a meeting of the National Security Council, where the UK’s response will be discussed.
William Hague and John Kerry at the summit on sexual violence in London
A Twitter account believed to belong to ISIS has claimed that the militants have executed 1,700 Shia soldiers in Iraq. Meanwhile the group has allegedly pardoned 2,500 Sunni soldiers. This cannot be independently confirmed, but the UN says it has received reports of summary executions. We will report more on this claim as we have it. Charles Lister of the US think-tank the Brookings Institution tweets:
<noframe>Twitter: Charles Lister – Wow. Official ISIS account in Salah ad Din claims execution of 1,700 Shia soldiers (likely from COB Speicher). <a href=”https://twitter.com/search?src=hash&q=%23Iraq” target=”_blank”>#Iraq</a> <a href=”http://t.co/n3C3IJ6oD2″ target=”_blank”>http://t.co/n3C3IJ6oD2</a></noframe>
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, is speaking on the Iraq crisis in London, where he has been attending a summit. He says that given the gravity of the crisis, he expects “timely decisions” from President Barack Obama. More on this as we have it.
The New York Times has compiled this useful visual guide to the Iraq crisis, with maps, photos and video illustrating the advance of ISIS towards Baghdad and the ethnic make-up of Iraq. It also has a map showing the cities held by ISIS in both Iraq and Syria, showing how the Sunni militant group has taken root along almost the entire length of the so-called Shia crescent, which runs from Iran to Lebanon.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, says that the power demonstrated by ISIS militants indicate it will be difficult to prevent Iraq from fragmenting.
Mr Steinmeier told reporters in Berlin that ISIS “has reached a potential that goes far beyond terrorist attacks” and that the group was now “a power factor that we will have to deal with not just in Iraq but in the entire region in future.”
He added that “this won’t make a political solution and the prevention of a splitting up of Iraq any easier.”
We have more now from on the call to arms from the influential Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani during Friday prayers in the city of Karbala.
“Citizens who are able to bear arms and fight terrorists, defending their country and their people and their holy places, should volunteer and join the security forces to achieve this holy purpose,” a representative announced on behalf of the elderly cleric, who rarely appears in public.
“He who sacrifices for the cause of defending his country and his family and his honour will be a martyr,” he added.
The Iraqi government says it will arm any civilian who volunteers to join it in its battle against ISIS militants, and in Baghdad willing residents have been seen pouring onto army trucks.
Sistani is highly influential in the Shia Muslim world and is adored by millions.
Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent, has delved into the complexities of the global jihadist movement to look at how ISIS has emerged from the al-Qaeda ranks: Iraq crisis: Is ISIS part of al-Qaeda?
The sudden rise of ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham – is the result of a crisis in the worldwide jihadist movement that has set the two most powerful heirs to the mantle of Osama bin Laden at loggerheads and led to the group’s formal split from al-Qaeda.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian long-time deputy to bin Laden, is still technically the head of al-Qaeda. But after more than a decade in hiding – presumably, like bin Laden himself, somewhere in Pakistan – and at constant risk of suffering the same fate at the hands of an American hit squad, his direct control over the organisation is limited to the release of missives of support and instruction which he does not have the same authority to enforce.
Ayman al-Zawahiri (AFP)
The work on the ground is done by units claiming loyalty to the cause led by powerful fighting emirs around the Middle East – from Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb in North Africa to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
It was perhaps inevitable that one of these leaders would eventually challenge the leadership. It is no surprise to jihad-watchers that it was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose predecessor as head of Iraqi operations, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was also at variance with Zawahiri over strategy before being killed by an American air strike in 2006.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (AP)
Such is the divide that Baghdadi and ISIS have been formally disavowed by Zawahiri, meaning that purists would no longer say that ISIS are part of al-Qaeda.
The argument is partly about tactics: Zawahiri seems to believe that the brutality of the Iraqi operation, which became famous for its beheadings and other grisly, videoed displays of force, alienated local Sunni populations.
It is also about strategy: al-Qaeda Central, including both bin Laden and Zawahiri, wanted jihad to be a worldwide competition of ideas designed to undermine the West.
As America wakes up, we await more word from Washington on its response to the unfolding crisis. In the meantime, take a look at Thursday night’s comments from John Kerry, the US secretary of state:
A representative of Iraq’s most influential Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has urged the country’s citizens to take up arms and defend their country from the threat of ISIS militants.
Sheikh Abdulmehdi al-Karbalai was delivering the sermon at Friday prayers in the city of Kerbala. More detail to follow.
The daughter of the toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has said she is “very happy” with the takeover of several Iraqi cities by Sunni Islamist fighters
Speaking to Al Quds Al Arabi, a London-based Arabic newspaper, Raghad Saddam Hussein credited the fall of Mosul to Izzat al Douri, an aide to her late father who has been linked with a band of former Iraqi army officers and Ba’athists who joined ISIS militants in their assault on the city.
“I am very happy with the victories (which) were achieved by my father’s men,” she said.
Saddam Hussein with his daughter Raghad during his time as Iraq’s president
Read our profile of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by Colin Freeman, the Telegraph’s chief foreign correspondent: The jihadist behind the takeover of Mosul – and how America let him go
The FBI “most wanted” mugshot shows a tough, swarthy figure, his hair in a jailbird crew-cut. The $10 million price on his head, meanwhile, suggests that whoever released him from US custody four years ago may now be regretting it.
Taken during his years as a detainee at the US-run Camp Bucca in southern Iraq, this is one of the few known photographs of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the new leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria, now known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS). But while he may lack the photogenic qualities of his hero, Osama bin Laden, he is fast becoming the new poster-boy for the global jihadist movement.
Well-organised and utterly ruthless, the ex-preacher is the driving force behind al-Qaeda’s resurgence throughout Syria and Iraq, putting it at the forefront of the war to topple President Bashar al-Assad and starting a fresh campaign of mayhem against the Western-backed government in Baghdad.
As the Iraqi government seeks to bolster Baghdad’s defences in the face of the ISIS offensive, civilian residents of the capital have been volunteering to fight alongside the national army against the al-Qaeda-inspired fighters:
Iraqi civilians board army trucks as volunteers in the fight against ISIS
The Iraqi government says it has boosted Baghdad’s defences as ISIS militants advance towards the capital.
“We put in place a new plan to protect Baghdad,” Brigadier General Saad Maan, an interior ministry spokesman, told AFP.
“The plan consists of intensifying the deployment of forces, and increasing intelligence efforts and the use of technology such as (observation) balloons and cameras and other equipment,” he said.
“We have been in a war with terrorism for a while, and today the situation is exceptional,” the spokesman added.
The Telegraph’s Middle East Correspondent, Richard Spencer, says that while ISIS has Baghdad in its sights, it is questionable whether the militants really have the power to take the capital:
ISIS’s spokesman says the battle for Iraq will move to Baghdad and beyond, to Karbala. That is a highly inflammatory statement, even by his standards – Karbala is the focal point of the Shia faith, the place where its founding imam, Hussein, was killed by the troops of the original Sunni Caliphate at the start of the Sunni-Shia divide.
Whether ISIS gets there is another matter. ISIS has a reputation for doing exactly as it threatens, but Baghdad ought to be a different challenge from Mosul. Unlike Mosul, it has large Shia areas which are still loyal to the government, and perhaps more importantly Shia troops, volunteers and militias defending them will be fighting for their families and sect, not just the nation state and its unpopular leader, Nouri al-Maliki.
Iranian forces are already said to be in Baghdad too. A large-scale western presence means that key installations, such as the large and well-fortified airport compound, are also protected by western security contractors.
In the midst of the chaos, the prospect has been raised of an unlikely alliance between Iran and the US as both seek to counter a common enemy.
A senior Iranian official has told Reuters that the leadership of the Shia state is discussing possible cooperation with Washington in providing support to Iraq government in its battle with al-Qaeda-inspired militants.
The Islamic Republic is reportedly planning to send its neighbour advisers and arms, although probably not troops, to help Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki push back fighters from ISIS, the breakaway Sunni al-Qaeda group.
“We can work with Americans to end the insurgency in the Middle East,” the official said, referring to the crisis in Iraq.
“We are very influential in Iraq, Syria and many other countries.”
ISIS is one of the key players in the battle to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a key Iranian ally, and its regional rise has rattled Tehran.
“The danger of extremist Sunni terrorist in Iraq and the region is increasing … There have been several high-ranking security meetings since yesterday in Tehran,” the official said.
“We are on alert and we also follow the developments in Iraq very closely.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday condemned violence perpetrated by insurgent groups in the Middle East.
“Today, in our region, unfortunately, we are witnessing violence, killing, terror and displacement,” Mr Rouhani said.
“Iran will not tolerate the terror and violence … we will fight against terrorism, factionalism and violence.”
Brigadier-General Mohammad Hejazi said Iran was ready to supply its neighbour with “military equipment or consultations,” the Tasnim news agency reported. “I do not think the deployment of Iranian troops would be necessary,” he added.
Washington so far has been cautious in its response to the Iranian comments, possibly due to concerns that Iran could try to use its regional influence with respect to the crisis as leverage in ongoing negotiations over its nuclear programme and international sanctions. Jen Psaki, the US State Department spokeswoman, said: “Clearly, we’ve encouraged them in many cases to play a constructive role. But I don’t have any other readouts or views from our end to portray here today.”
Witnesses have reported that ISIS militants are preparing for a fresh assault on the city of Samarra, home to the Shiite shrine whose 2006 bombing prompted the upsurge in sectarian violence known as the Iraqi civil war.
Residents in the Dur area, between the ISIS-controlled city of Tikrit and Samarra, said they saw “countless” vehicles carrying the fighters south overnight.
In Samarra, witnesses reported that insurgents were grouping to the north, east and southeast of the city, which lies just 70 miles north of Baghdad.
A tribal leader said that ISIS fighters had spoken with security forces in Samarra, asking them to withdraw and promising not to harm the Al-Askari shrine, according to AFP. But the security forces refused to leave, setting the stage for a full-blown attack.
ISIS has already made two attempts to take control of Samarra, one on Wednesday and one late last week, but were pushed back by Iraqi troops.
The bombing of the Al-Askari shrine in February 2006 sparked two years of bloody sectarian conflict between the country’s Shiite majority and Sunni Arab minority which claimed tens of thousands of lives
Watch the latest Telegraph video from Iraq: ISIS fighters stage a parade of American Humvee patrol cars seized from a collapsing Iraqi army in the two days since its fighters overran the northern city of Mosul.
Iraqi troops are battling ISIS militants advancing towards Baquba, the capital of Diyala province just 30 miles north of Baghdad, after the insurgents took control of a number of towns and villages in the area overnight.
Clashes were reported on the outskirts of Muqdadiyah, 23 miles northeast of Baquba, as ISIS made territorial gains in the ethnically mixed province, said to be one of the incubators for Al-Qaeda-linked activity in the last two years.
Diyala province has a mixed Arab, Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite population and suffered much of the worst sectarian violence during Iraqi civil war of 2006-2008.
The militants have already captured two provincial capitals this week – Tikrit in Salaheddin province and second city Mosul in Nineveh.
ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani has vowed its fighters would press on to the capital and, further south, to the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, visited by millions of pilgrims from around the world each year.
ISIS fighters at a checkpoint in the northern city of Mosul
The UN says that some half a million people have fled their homes since Monday, fearing violence, kidnapping and rape as ISIS militants tighten their grip on large parts of the country’s north. Most have headed for the autonomous Kurdish region and workers were yesterday busy expanding the Khazer checkpoint in the area known as Kalak to cope with the flood of refugees.
One man told the Associated Press how fighters had come to his home and threatened his family:
“Masked men came to our house and they threatened us: ‘We will get to you.’ So we fled,” said Abed, a labourer who abandoned his home on the edge of Mosul “They kidnapped other people. They took away some people for interrogation.”
The young man said rumors were quickly spreading that Islamic State fighters – as well as masked bandits taking advantage of the chaos – were seizing young women for rape or forced marriage.
“They are destroying the honor of families,” said Abed, who, like many of the displaced, wouldn’t give his full name, fearing the Islamic State fighters.
Many of the displaced said they were on the move because they feared retribution by Iraq’s military – underscoring the grave sectarian tensions that have allowed the Islamic State fighters, who are Sunni extremists, to conquer so fast and deeply.
Women flee Mosul for the Kurdish autonomous region
ISIS fighters have gained more ground overnight, taking two towns in the eastern province of Diyala after security forces abandoned their posts. Reuters cited security sources as reporting that the towns of Saadiyah and Jalawla have now fallen to the militants, who have also moved into several villages around the Himreen mountains, long a sanctuary for insurgent groups.
Iraqi troops launched artillery rounds at the two towns, causing many families to flee towards Khaniqin, close to the Iranian border, the sources said.
Good morning and welcome to our live blog on the crisis in Iraq, where troops are battling ISIS militants who have taken control of swathes of the country’s north and are currently pushing south towards Baghdad.
Isis, which was formely al-Qaeda in Iraq, has a complicated relationship with al-Qaeda itself, made more difficult by its decision to operate in Iraq against al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s wishes.
For more details on this al-Qaeda offshoot and others, from Boko Haram to al-Shabaab, take a look at our interactive graphic.
- Iraq crisis: ISIS battles for Baghdad – live (telegraph.co.uk)
- ISIS’ Iraq offensive could trigger Hezbollah to fill gap left in Syria (dailystar.com.lb)
- Terrifying execution images in Iraq; U.S. Baghdad Embassy relocates some staff (kdvr.com)
- US deploys warship amid Iraq crisis (bbc.co.uk)
- Iraq crisis: Executions and rape reported as Islamist ISIS militants close in on Baghdad (sott.net)