Sunni militants have seized another town in Iraq’s western Anbar province, the fourth to fall in two days, officials said on Sunday, in what is shaping up to be a major offensive in one of Iraq’s most restive regions.
The militants also captured two border crossings, one along the frontier with Jordan and the other with Syria. Controlling the borders with Syria will help it supply fighters there with weaponry looted from Iraq, significantly reinforcing its ability to battle beleaguered Syrian government forces.
If they succeed, they could further unsettle the already volatile West Asia and serve as a magnet for jihadists from across the world—much like al-Qaeda attracted extremists in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Iran’s supreme leader meanwhile came out forcefully against any US intervention in Iraq, accusing Washington of fomenting unrest and appearing to quash recent speculation that the rivals might cooperate to address the shared threat posed by the militants’ advance.
Kerry in Cairo
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the region on Sunday aiming to bridge widening rifts. Kerry landed in Cairo on a trip to West Asia and Europe, with the US aiming to unite Iraq’s fractious leaders and repel the militants.
The militants captured Rutba, about 150 km east of the Jordanian border, late on Saturday, said officials. Residents were on Sunday negotiating with the militants to leave after an army unit on the town’s outskirts threatened to start shelling.
The towns of Qaim, Rawah, Anah and Rutba are the first seized in the mainly Sunni Anbar province since fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and their allies overran the city of Fallujah and parts of the provincial capital of Ramadi earlier this year.