Sunni militants in Iraq have captured major border posts connected to Syria and Jordan and a string of towns in a western province, as they tighten their grip on key areas of the country, Iraq’s military authorities announced on Sunday.
The takeover of the Walid crossing to Syria and the Turaibil crossing to Jordan follow the recent captures of a number of towns in Anbar province, which has been controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the Associated Press reports. ISIS, a militant extremist group once allied with al-Qaeda, has been pressing on toward Baghdad in recent weeks.
The capture of Rutba, a town located approximately 150 km east of the Iraqi-Jordanian border, gives insurgents major control over a key route to Jordan. The control of border posts and towns like Rutba will allow insurgent forces to more easily move weapons and soldiers between countries.
The seizure of Rawah and Anah suggest movement toward the city of Haditha, where a major dam lies — which, if destroyed, could wreak havoc on the country’s electrical systems and cause major flooding. Iraqi authorities speaking to the AP on the condition of anonymity say 2,000 troops have been dispatched to protect the dam.
Iraqi military spokesman General Qassim Atta commented on the captures, saying security forces in Rawah, Anah and Qaim had previously been pulled to support other troops elsewhere, the New York Times reports.
During a Sunday appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation, U.S. President Barack Obama called ISIS a “medium- and long-term threat.” While ISIS is one of several groups the U.S. should continue to monitor, he said, the organization poses a “destabilizing” threat to Iraq and neighboring countries that makes it a particular concern in the region.
Obama said while the U.S. needed to address unrest in the region, action needed to be a “more focused, more targeted strategy” done in partnership with local law and military officials. Obama’s remarks follow both Iraq’s request for air-strike support and comments from Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, who accused the U.S. of stirring up unrest in the region to advance its own interests.
During a visit to Egypt, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called ISIS a threat to “all the countries in the region,” Reuters reports.