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ISIL seizes more towns, oilfields in Iraq
August 4, 2014, 5:07 am

Residents of Mosul, including tribal members, initially cheered ISIL's capture of the city, but relations have since soured after several heritage sites were destroyed  [AP]

Residents of Mosul, including tribal members, initially cheered ISIL’s capture of the city, but relations have since soured after several heritage sites were destroyed [AP]

Heavily armed fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL – or ISIS) seized the northwestern towns of Zumar and Sinjar Sunday after heavy fighting with Iraqi Kurdish fighters that lasted nearly 24 hours.

On Monday, reports emerged that ISIL fighters were negotiating with the Kurdish fighters – also known as Peshmerga –  the surrender of other towns in Iraq’s north close to the Syrian and Turkish borders.

A day earlier, ISIL fighters on pickup trucks stormed through the town of Wanna giving them strategic access to Mosul Dam, formerly known as Saddam Dam.

The Peshmerga retreated from the dam complying with a two-hour ISIL notice to withdraw.

Control of the dam marks a strategic victory for the Islamist fighters as they now control water supply to large swathes of Iraq. Blowing the dam would flood major cities and towns between Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province, and Baghdad.

At press time, there were unverified reports that ISIL fighters had also wrested control of the Ayn Zala and Butma oilfields from Kurdish control with some now fearing that Iraq’s oil pipelines to Turkey are in danger.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) said that hundreds of thousands of the cities’ residents had fled the fighting and were seeking refuge in nearby towns.

However, the UN warned that it fears for the safety for tens of thousands of members of the minority Yazidi sect who were among the newly displaced refugees.

The Baghdad government’s hold on Iraq began to unravel when fighters belonging to a coalition of Islamist militant groups operating under the ISIL banner seized the ethnically mixed city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June.

Army troops and security forces abandoned their posts at government installations and tore off their uniforms, at the time, and several military operations to recapture lost territory have ended in defeat for Baghdad.

With their fighters entrenched in Mosul and most of Nineveh, the former Al-Qaeda affiliates – who have maintained a brutal campaign against the forces of President Bashar Al-Assad in neighbouring Syria – now effectively control a third of Iraq.

In January, political squabbles in the western city of Falluja in Anbar Province created a vacuum which was quickly usurped by ISIL who drove government-allied forces from the region.

The Iraqi Army has tried in vain to regain control of Falluja; ISIL forces have actually expanded their control of the area to include the Abu Ghraib district in Anbar, very near the capital Baghdad.

In late June, the US dispatched hundreds of military advisors to assist Iraq’s national army. Since then, Baghdad has received Sukhoi fighter jets from Russia and on July 31, the US approved the $700-million sale of Hellfire air-to-surface missiles to the Iraqi military.

Meanwhile, residents of Mosul are growing increasingly angry with ISIL fighters who last week destroyed the tomb  of the Biblical prophet Jonah, and razed a number of other historical sites such as churches, mosques, and monasteries.

In late July, Mosul was emptied of its Christian minority for the first time in more than 1,800 years as many fled after an ISIL ultimatum that they convert to Islam or face death.

Source: Agencies

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