Conflict & Justice

Sunni militants win 4 towns in western Iraq


Ramadi, west of Baghdad in Iraq's Anbar province, on June 21, 2014.



Sunni militants advanced through western Iraq on Sunday after seizing a strategic Syria border crossing Saturday.

The militants, led by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), seized the towns of Rutba, Rawa and Ana after taking the Al-Qaim border crossing on Saturday, residents said.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the group also captured the Al Jazeera Command Center, a crucial military installation, in the town of Rasa in Anbar on Sunday morning.

ISIL now controls more than 70 percent of Anbar, two security officials in the province told CNN.

The government said its forces made "tactical" withdrawals from the towns, which are small but open up a strategic route to neighboring Syria, and thus mark a key victory for the militants, who aim to create an Islamic state that will incorporate both Iraq and Syria.

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ISIL is already making use of this new strategic advantage.

People near the border post at Al Qaim told the Wall Street Journal they saw about 40 ISIL trucks crossing the border from Syria. With most of the border now under ISIL control, militants appear capable of moving weapons and personnel easily between the two countries.

Shia show of force

Shia civilians held massive rallies in cities across central and southern Iraq on Saturday in a massive show of sectarian aggression.

Young men paraded through the streets of Shia-majority cities in mismatched uniforms that they had bought in stores. Some carried fake weapons or rode on pickup trucks mounted with counterfeit missiles made out of drain pipes and broomsticks.

Shia fighters parade in Najaf, central Iraq, June 21, 2014. (Haidar Hamdani/AFP/Getty Images)

In Baghdad's Sadr City, a predominantly Shia area in the eastern part of the city, the parade was organized by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who urged unity in Iraq in its fight against ISIS, according to CNN.

Thousands of Shias gathered in Sadr City, wearing various security forces' uniforms and carrying rifles, rocket launchers and rocket-propelled grenades.

Even women joined the march, dressed in black and holding handguns.

Clashes near Tikrit

Elsewhere, Iraqi government forces launched an air strike on the militant-held city of Tikrit on Sunday, killing at least seven people, residents of the city said.

The insurgents also clashed with security forces and pro-government tribal fighters in Al-Alam, east of Tikrit, with militants killing the women's affairs adviser to the provincial governor.

The firefight, which began Saturday evening, continued into Sunday.

The fighting came as US Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Cairo on a trip to the Middle East and Europe, with the US aiming to unite Iraq's fractious leaders and repel the militants. He will visit Iraq, though it is not yet known exactly when.

Agence France Presse contributed to this report.