Iraqi militants take border post with Syria

Sunni extremists have seized control of large swathes of territory across Iraq. Photo - AFP
The militants, led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), first moved into the nearby town of al-Qaim on Friday, pushing out security forces, the sources said.
Security officials say fighters with the al-Qaida breakaway group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, took the border town of Qaim overnight after a day of heavy fighting on Friday.  The Associated Press quotes officials speaking on the condition of anonymity saying people are now crossing back and forth freely.
In another development Saturday, fighters loyal to powerful Shi\’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr paraded with weapons through the streets of the Sadr City section of Baghdad.  They vowed to fight ISIL, which now controls a large portion of northern Iraq and has been moving closer to the capital.
On Friday, Iraq\’s top Shi\’ite cleric called for a new, "effective" government that avoids "past mistakes," adding to the pressure on the country\’s Shi\’ite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
The remarks by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani come after U.S. President Barack Obama called on Maliki to create an agenda "inclusive" of Iraq\’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities or risk civil war.
The advance by ISIL began early last week with the militants\’ takeover of the city of Mosul.  Iraq has asked the U.S. for airstrikes to counter the militants.
President Obama said Thursday he is ready to take what he called "targeted" military action as necessary. He said he is prepared to send more equipment and up to 300 military advisers to help train, advise and support Iraqi forces in the fight. But he ruled out sending U.S. ground forces back into Iraq. And he said ultimately, the crisis is going to have to be solved by the Iraqis.
President Obama is sending Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East and Europe next week to consult with partner countries on Iraq.  Kerry will travel to Jordan before heading to Brussels for the NATO foreign ministers\’ meeting and then to Paris for meetings with regional partners and Gulf allies.
U.S. Defense Department spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters Friday the first teams of advisers being sent to Iraq comprise personnel who are already in Baghdad.  He said the U.S. is pursuing a statement in writing from the Iraqi government on legal protections for the military advisory teams.
The U.N. Refugee Agency announced Friday that conflict in Iraq has displaced one million people since the beginning of the year.
Iraqi troops and Sunni militants have been locked in fighting since Tuesday for control of the country\’s biggest oil refinery.  Reports had said each side held a portion of the Beiji refinery, about 250 kilometers north of Baghdad.
The U.S. State Department says the ISIL fighters also have control of what used to be a chemical weapons production facility under the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Maliki is facing fierce opposition from his rivals as he tries to retain the prime minister post after his State of Law bloc won the most seats in parliament in Iraq\’s April 30 elections.
The newly-elected parliament must meet by June 30 to elect a speaker and a new president, who will then ask the leader of the largest bloc to form a new government.
Source –  VOA and agencies
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