Iraqi military forces belonging to embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki confirmed on Sunday that two crossings bordering Syria and Jordan were seized by the al-Qaeda breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, Al Arabiya News Channel reported.
The crossings include Teraibeel bordering Syria and al-Waleed with Jordan.
Earlier the interior minister dismissed claims that ISIS had won control over these key crossings.
Officials at the border post of al-Waleed fled after a relatively small number of militants in two cars fired into the air, Reuters reported a customs police source and an army source as saying. They did not say who was behind the attack. A government official who spoke on condition of anonymity blamed “terrorists.”
The security sources said some officials from the customs office and from a government bank at the Waleed border crossing had fled westward in the direction of Syria and others had headed east into Iraq.
In a show of the intermingling of the Syrian conflict and the crisis in Iraq, Syria’s air force has struck the al-Waleed crossing after ISIS claimed control over the border area, an official in Anbar province said.
The capture of the two crossings follows the fall on Friday and Saturday of the towns of Qaim, Rawah, Anah and Rutba They are all in the Sunni dominated Anbar province, where the militants have since January controlled the city of Fallujah and parts of the provincial capital Ramadi.
Rutba is on the main highway from Baghdad to the two border crossing and the capture has effectively cut the Iraqi capital’s main land route to Jordan. It is a key artery for passengers and goods and has been infrequently used in recent months because of deteriorating security.
Advantages in controlling borders
Controlling the borders with Syria will also help it supply fellow fighters in Syria with weaponry looted from Iraqi warehouses, significantly reinforcing its ability to battle beleaguered Syrian government forces.
If they succeed in their quest, they could further unsettle the already volatile Middle East and serve as a magnet for Jihadists from across the world - much like al-Qaeda attracted extremists in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
A monitoring group said that Jihadists fighting in Syria’s war put to use for the first time on Sunday American-made Humvees that they seized during a lightening offensive in Iraq this month.
ISIS used the armored vehicles to capture the villages of Eksar and Maalal in Aleppo province, which borders Turkey, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Militants kill 21 in Anbar
Militants have killed 21 leaders from the towns of Rawa and Ana during two days of violence in western Iraq, AFP reported officers and doctors as saying on Sunday.
Some of those killed were shot dead on Saturday, when the militants moved into the towns, while others were slain the following day.
Sources told Al Arabiya News Channel that at least 12 people were killed after two suicide bombers targeted a funeral of an official in Anbar.
Kerry: not our fault
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday urged Iraqi leaders to rise above “sectarian considerations,” and said that Washington was “not responsible” for the crisis, during a surprise visit to Egypt, Agence France-Presse reported.
Kerry arrived in Cairo earlier Sunday as part of a diplomatic mission to push Egypt toward democracy but also to discuss the crisis in Iraq, where Sunni militants and ISIS have seized large swathes of territory.
Obama warns of Iraqi militants
U.S. President Barack Obama has also warned that the extremist militants could also destabilize other countries in the volatile region.
ISIS 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 U.S. 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 destabilizing the country (Iraq),” he said in an interview aired Sunday 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 vacuum that's been created -- they could amass more arms, more resources.”
(With AFP and Associated Press)SHOW MORE