The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

June 22, 2014

Iraqi militants seize 2 more border crossings

BAGHDAD — Sunni militants on Sunday captured two border crossings, one along the frontier with Jordan and the other with Syria, security and military officials said, as they pressed on with their offensive in one of Iraq's most restive regions.

The fall dealt Iraq's embattled Shiite prime minister a further blow and brought the war to the doorstep of Jordan, a key ally of the United States that also borders embattled Syria to its north.

The blitz by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Iraq's vast western desert takes the al-Qaida-breakaway group closer to its dream of carving out a purist Islamic state straddling both Syria and Iraq.

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-Qaida attracted extremists in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

The Iraqi officials said the militants of the Islamic State took over the Turaibil crossing with Jordan and the al-Walid crossing with Syria after government forces there pulled out.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

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.

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