Sunni militants captured the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar early on Monday, its mayor and residents said, the latest blow to the nation’s Shiite-led government a week after it lost a vast swath of territory in the country’s north.
The town, with a population of some 200,000 people, mostly ethnic Shiite and Sunni Turkomen, was taken just before dawn, Mayor Abdulal Abdoul told Associated Press.
The ethnic mix of Tal Afar, 420 kilometres northwest of Baghdad, raises the grim spectre of large-scale atrocities by Sunni militants of the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, who already claim to have killed hundreds of Shiites in areas they captured last week.
TAL AFAR: MILITANTS’ ADVANCE CONTINUES
The fall of Tal Afar comes a week after Sunni militants captured Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit in a lightening offensive. The town is some 150 kilometres from the border with Syria, where ISIL is fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s government and controls territory abutting the Iraqi border.
The capture of Tal Afar came just hours after Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, addressing volunteers joining the security forces, vowed to recapture every inch of territory taken by the militants. “We will march and liberate every inch they defaced, from the country’s northernmost point to the southernmost point,” al-Maliki said. The volunteers responded with Shia chants.
WASHINGTON: PENTAGON RULES OUT MILITARY CO-ORDINATION WITH IRAN
U.S. officials may hold discussions with Iran about Iraq’s security crisis on the sidelines of nuclear talks this week, but Washington will not co-ordinate potential military action in Iraq with its longtime adversary Tehran, the Pentagon said on Monday.
“It’s possible that on the sidelines of those discussions there could be discussions surrounding the situation in Iraq,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said, referring to talks in Vienna this week between world powers and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program. “But there is absolutely no intention and no plan to coordinate military activity between the United States and Iran … there are no plans to have consultations with Iran about military activities in Iraq,” he told reporters.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the advance an “existential threat” for Iraq. Asked if the United States could co-operate with Tehran against the insurgents, Kerry told Yahoo! News on Monday: “I wouldn’t rule out anything that would be constructive.”
ISIL: PHOTOS SHOW MILITANTS MASSACRING SOLDIERS
Over the weekend, militants posted graphic photos that appeared to show their gunmen massacring scores of captured Iraqi soldiers. The pictures, on a militant website, appear to show masked ISIL fighters loading the captives onto flatbed trucks before forcing them to lie face-down in a shallow ditch with their arms tied behind their backs. The final images show the bodies of the captives soaked in blood after being shot at several locations.
Iraq’s chief military spokesman, Lieutenant-General Qassim al-Moussawi, confirmed the photos’ authenticity and said he was aware of cases of mass murder of captured Iraqi soldiers in areas held by ISIL. He told the AP that an examination of the images by military experts showed that about 170 soldiers were shot to death by the militants after their capture.
Captions on the photos showing the soldiers after they were shot say “hundreds have been liquidated,” but the total numbers could not be verified.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the militants’ claim of killing the Iraqi troops “is horrifying and a true depiction of the bloodlust that those terrorists represent.” She added that an ISIL claim that 1,700 were killed could not be confirmed by the United States.
EUROPE: SUSPECTED ISIL RECRUITERS ARRESTED
Eight people have been arrested in Spain and a further three in Germany for suspected links with jihadi groups, especially in Iraq and Syria, authorities said Monday.
A Spanish Interior Ministry statement said police detained the eight in Madrid early Monday on suspicion of recruiting jihadi militants for ISIL. It said the cell was led by a person who lives in Spain but had previously been jailed in Guantanamo Bay after being arrested in Afghanistan in 2001.
In Berlin, prosecutors’ spokesman Martin Steltner said police on Saturday arrested a 30-year-old Frenchman suspected of “supporting a terrorist organization” by fighting in Syria for the group. Steltner said the suspect, who wasn’t named because of German privacy laws, was wounded in fighting. He has also allegedly appeared in ISIL propaganda videos. A court will decide on his extradition to France in the coming weeks.
German police also arrested a 27-year-old German woman at Frankfurt Airport on Thursday, and a 17-year-old German in Stuttgart on Friday. Both are being linked to Islamist extremist groups.
CANADA: DIPLOMAT LEAVES IRAQ
A Foreign Affairs spokesman says security concerns forced Canada’s acting chargé d’affaires to leave Iraq on Sunday.
John Babcock says the government will now be reassessing its diplomatic presence in Iraq on a daily basis. Foreign Affairs earlier issued an advisory against all travel to Iraq, warning the situation there is growing increasingly dangerous and unpredictable.
Canada’s embassy to Iraq and Jordan is based in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
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