BAGHDAD: Shia fighters paraded in Baghdad Saturday in a dramatic show of force aimed at 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 domestically and overseas. And in a sign the broad alliance of jihadists and anti-government elements behind the assault might be fracturing, internecine clashes killed 17 fighters in northern Iraq. Iraqi security forces on Saturday announced they were holding their own in several areas north of Baghdad, but officials said insurgents led by ISIL seized one of three official border crossings with Syria.
Militants took control of the area 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 takeover 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. Insurgents led by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) 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 reign along most of the 600-kilometre (375-mile) border, neither side of which is controlled by government forces.
ISIL 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. Elsewhere, 17 fighters were killed in clashes Friday evening between ISIL and the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandiyah Order (JRTN), another insurgent group, in militant-held territory in northern Kirkuk province. The 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 that grouping can hold together given its disparate ideologies. The battle for Tal Afar had entered its seventh day, Maliki’s security spokesman said on Saturday, with government forces holding some neighbourhoods but not the entire strategic northern town. He also said a number of security personnel had been killed and wounded in the days of fighting with militants, but declined to specify how many.
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