Mehdi Army fighters loyal to Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr take part in a parade in Baghdad on Saturday. (Reuters)
Anbar (Iraq) June 21 (Reuters): Sunni fighters seized a border post on the Iraq-Syria frontier, security sources said today, smashing a line drawn by colonial powers almost a century ago with the aim of creating an Islamic Caliphate stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to Iran.
The militants, led by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), first moved into the nearby town of al-Qaim yesterday, pushing out security forces, the sources said.
Once border guards heard that al-Qaim had fallen, they left their posts and militants moved in, the sources said. Sameer al-Shwiali, media adviser to the commander of Iraq’s anti-terrorist squad, said the Iraqi army was still in control of al-Qaim.
Al-Qaim and its neighbouring Syrian counterpart Albukamal are on a strategic supply route. A three-year civil war in Syria has left most of eastern Syria in the hands of Sunni militants, including the Albukamal-Qaim crossing.
The Albukamal gate is run by al Qaida’s official Syria branch, the Nusra Front, which has clashed with ISIS but has also agreed to localised truces when it suits both sides.
The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, Rami Abdulrahman, said ISIS has pushed the Nusra Front out from many areas of eastern Syria in the past few days and their capture of al-Qaim will allow them to quickly move to the Syrian side.
ISIS already controls territory around the Abukamal gate, effectively pinching the Nusra Front between its forces in Syria and those in neighbouring Iraq, said Abdulrahman, who tracks the violence.
The al Qaida off-shoot has captured swathes of territory in northwest and central Iraq, including the second city, Mosul. They have seized large amounts of weaponry from the fleeing Iraqi army.
The fighting has divided Iraq along sectarian lines. The Kurds have expanded their zone in the northeast to include the oil city of Kirkuk, which they regard as part of Kurdistan, while Sunnis have taken ground in the west.
The government has mobilised Shia militia to send volunteers to the front lines. In Baghdad’s Shia slum of Sadr City, thousands of fighters wearing military fatigues marched through the streets.
They carried rocket-propelled grenades, semi-automatic rifles and trucks had mounted long-range rockets, including the new 3-metre “Muqtada 1” missile, named after Shia cleric Muqtada Sadr, who has tens of thousands of followers.