Militants Attack Iraqi Air Base

Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) stand guard at a checkpoint in the northern Iraq city of MosulMilitants attacked one of Iraq’s largest air bases and seized control of several small oilfields yesterday as U.S. military experts arrived to set up an operations centre to help Iraqi security forces counter a mounting Sunni insur-gency.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is fighting for his job and is under international pressure to create a more inclusive government, said he supported starting the process of forming a new government within a week.

In northern Iraqi the Sunni militants extended a two-week advance that has been led by the hardline Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but also includes an amalgam of other Sunni groups angered by Maliki’s rule. They blame him for marginalising their sect during eight years in power. The fighting threatens to rupture the country two and a half years after the end of U.S. occupation.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Iraqi officials to form an “inclusive” government during a visit this week and urged leaders of the autonomous Kurdish region to stand with Baghdad against the onslaught. “We will attend the first session of parliament,” Maliki said on state television, adding the commitment stemmed from “loyalty to our people” and respect for a call by Iraq’s foremost Shi’ite clergy.

On Friday, Shi’ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most respected cleric among Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, called for the government formation process to begin.

The United Nations says more than 1,000 people, mainly civilians, have been killed during the Sunni insurgents’ advance in Iraq, spearheaded by al Qaeda offshoot ISIL.

The figure includes unarmed government troops machine gunned in mass graves by insurgents, as well as several reported incidents of prisoners killed in their cells by retreating government forces.

U.S. President Barack Obama has offered up to 300 American advisers to Iraq, about 130 of whom have now been deployed.

Another 50 U.S. military personnel working in the region are expected to arrive within the next few days to create four additional assessment teams, he said. U.S. military personnel are also flying regular manned and unmanned reconnaissance flights over Iraq.

Iraqi state television reported that newly-arrived Pentagon advisers met with Baghdad’s operations commander and agreed to set up a joint operation command.

Baghdad is racing against time as the insurgents consolidate their grip on Sunni provinces. — Reuters

 

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