WASHINGTON/baghdad: US President Barack Obama has warned that extremist militants who have surged through Iraq in a lightning and brutal offensive could also destabilise other countries in the volatile region.
The jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is rampaging towards the capital Baghdad in its bid to create an Islamic state that will incorporate both Iraq and Syria.
But Obama, who has ruled out putting US combat troops once again on the ground in Iraq, says he fears the militants could have an even more widespread impact, while also warning that “their extreme ideology poses a medium and long-term threat” to the United States.
“We’re going to have to be vigilant generally. Right now the problem with ISIS is the fact that they’re destabilising the country (Iraq),” he said in an interview aired yesterday on CBS television’s “Face the Nation”.
“That could spill over into some of our allies like Jordan,” he said, adding: “They are engaged in wars in Syria where — in that vaccum that’s been created — they could amass more arms, more resources.”
Obama believes however that Iraqis will ultimately reject the extremist Sunni group that is threatening to tear the country apart, just three years after American troops withdrew.
“The thing about an organisation like this is that typically when they control territory, because they’re so violent, because they’re so extreme — over time, the local populations reject them,” Obama said.
“We’ve seen that time and time again. We saw it during the Iraq war in places like Anbar Province, where Sunni tribes suddenly turned against them because of their extreme ideology.”
Obama, who has warned that no amount of US firepower could keep Iraq together if its political leaders do not work to unite the country, cautioned: “But I think it’s important for us to recognise that ISIS is just one of a number of organisations that we have to stay focused on.
“Al Qaeda in Yemen is still very active and we’re staying focused on that.
“In North Africa, you’re seeing organisations including Boko Haram that kidnapped all those young women that is extreme and violent.
“And this is going to be a global challenge and one that the United States is going to have to address, but we’re not going to be able to address it alone.”
Republican Senator Rand Paul, a prospective 2016 presidential contender, told CNN’s “State of the Union” programme that he fears civil war will break out in Iraq.
“But there will be a civil war with feckless people on one side who are allies of Iran, and on the other side, allies of Al Qaeda,” he said. “You have to ask yourself: are you willing to send your son? Am I willing to send my son to retake back a city, Mosul, that they weren’t willing to defend themselves? I’m not willing to send my son into that mess.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, meanwhile accused the United States yesterday of trying to retake control of Iraq by exploiting sectarian rivalries, as Sunni insurgents drove towards Baghdad from new strongholds along the Syrian border.
“We are strongly opposed to US and other intervention in Iraq,” Irna news agency quoted Khamenei as saying. “We don’t approve of it as we believe the Iraqi government, nation and religious authorities are capable of ending the sedition.”
ISIL thrust east from a newly captured Iraqi-Syrian border post yesterday, taking three towns in Iraq’s western Anbar province after seizing the frontier crossing near the town of Qaim on Saturday, witnesses and security sources said. They seized a second, Al Waleed, yesterday.
The gains have helped ISIL secure supply lines to Syria, where it has exploited the chaos of the uprising against President Bashar Al Assad to seize territory. The radical Islamist faction is considered the most powerful force among Sunni armed groups who seized Falluja, just west of Baghdad, and took parts of Anbar’s capital Ramadi at the start of the year.
The fall of Qaim represented another step towards the realization of ISIL’s military goals, erasing a frontier drawn by colonial powers carving up the Ottoman empire a century ago.
ISIL’s gains on Sunday included the towns of Rawa and Ana along the Euphrates river east of Qaim, as well as the town of Rutba further south on the main highway from Jordan to Baghdad.
A military intelligence official said Iraqi troops had withdrawn from Rawa and Ana after ISIL militants attacked the settlements late on Saturday. “Troops withdrew from Rawa, Ana and Rutba this morning and ISIL moved quickly to completely control these towns,” the official said.
“They took Ana and Rawa this morning without a fight.”
Military spokesman Major-General Qassim al-Moussawi said the withdrawal from the towns was intended to ensure “command and control” and to allow troops to regroup and retake the areas.
“The withdrawal of the units was for the purpose of reopening the areas,” he told reporters in Baghdad.
The towns are on a strategic supply route between ISIL’s positions in Iraq and in eastern Syria, where the group has taken a string of towns and strategic positions from rival Sunni forces fighting Assad over the past few days.
RAMADI: Militants killed 21 leaders in the western Iraq towns of Rawa and Ana during two days of violence, officers and doctors said yesterday, after security forces made a “tactical” withdrawal.
Some of those killed were shot dead on Saturday, when the militants moved into the towns, while others were slain the following day.
The killings came after Iraqi security forces members departed the towns, clearing the way for the militant takeover.
“The military units’ withdrawal (from Rawa and Ana and Al Qaim) was for the purpose of redeployment,” Lieutenant General Qassem Atta said, referring to it as a “tactical” move.AFP