The Iraqi government has bolstered Baghdad’s defenses as militants from the al-Qaeda inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and local armed groups vowed to advance to the capital after days of successive gains.
Interior Ministry Spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan told AFP: “We put in place a new plan to protect Baghdad.”
“The plan consists of intensifying the deployment of forces, and increasing intelligence efforts and the use of technology such as (observation) balloons and cameras and other equipment,” Maan said.
He said coordination between security forces had also been increased.
“We have been in a war with terrorism for a while, and today the situation is exceptional,” Maan said.
On Thursday, ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani issued an audio statement posted on YouTube urging militants to march for Baghdad.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has an ambitious project to establish a Islamist state that combines Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine.
“Our final destination will be Baghdad, the decisive battle will be there,’ that’s what their leader of the militants group kept repeating,” the tribal figure said.
ISIS spokesman al-Adnani said in his audio statement that the battle would “rage” in Baghdad and Karbala, a city southwest of the capital that is considered one of the holiest sites for Shiite Muslims.
“Do not relent against your enemy... The battle is not yet raging, but it will rage in Baghdad and Karbala,” Adnani said. “Put on your belts and get ready,” he added.
“March toward Baghdad because there is an account to settle,” he added.
ISIS seizes two more town
On Friday, the militants seized two more towns in the eastern province of Diyala.
Saadiyah and Jalawla had fallen to the Sunni Muslim insurgents after government troops fled their positions, along with several villages around the Himreen mountains that have long been a hideout for militants, security sources said, according to Reuters.
The Iraqi army fired artillery shells at Saadiyah and Jalawla from the nearby town of Muqdadiya, sending dozens of families fleeing towards Khaniqin near the Iranian border.
Iraq’s most influential Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani Friday warned of the “serious situation” in the country, saying that Baghdad is now the target of militants.
Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said: “Repelling terrorists is the responsibility of everyone and does not concern on one sect.” He urged political parties to ignore their differences and focus on fighting terrorism.
“Rebels” not “Terrorists”
Meanwhile, the country’s highest religious authority for Sunnis warned against labeling the “rebels” as “terrorists.”
Religious cleric Rafi’ al-Rifaee stated that the “free rebels” should not be accused of belonging to terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and said such allegations will only incite division between these rebels and the cities they are “liberating” from the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Rifaee described what is happening in Iraq as a process to liberate Iraq from Maliki’s army.
In the spreading chaos, Iraqi Kurdish forces seized control of Kirkuk - an oil hub just outside their autonomous enclave that they have long seen as their traditional capital - as Iraqi government troops abandoned posts in panic over ISIL’s advance.
U.S. President Barack Obama threatened military strikes against ISIS on Thursday, highlighting the gravity of the group’s threat to redraw borders in an oil-rich region with the risk of any new entity turning into a launch-pad for attacks on Western interests.
“I don’t rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria,” Obama said at the White House, when asked whether he was contemplating air strikes.
“In our consultations with the Iraqis, there will be some short-term immediate things that need to be done militarily,” he said. A U.S. defense official said the United States had been flying surveillance drones over Iraq to help it fight ISIS.
U.S. officials later said that U.S. ground forces would not return to Iraq, according to Reuters.
[With AFP and Reuters]