World Bulletin/News Desk
A Sunni offensive threatening to dismember Iraq seemed to slow on Saturday after days of lightning advances as government forces reported regaining territory in counter-attacks, easing pressure on Baghdad's Shi'ite-led government.
As Iraqi officials spoke of wresting back the initiative against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant insurgents (ISIL), neighbouring Shi'ite Iran held out the prospect of working with its longtime U.S. arch-enemy to help restore security in Iraq.
In a visit to Samarra, a major town in ISIL's sights 100 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed to defeat the rebels who caused international shock waves when they overran the Sunni northwest of Iraq earlier this week.
The dramatic territorial surge by ISIL, putting demoralised and disorganised army contingents to flight, have alarmed both Maliki's Shi'ite supporters in Iran and in the United States, which helped bring him to power after its 2003 invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein. Oil prices have jumped over fears of ISIL disrupting exports from OPEC member Iraq.
But the ISIL juggernaut appeared to lose momentum on Saturday with the Iraqi military saying it was now holding back the rebels and also, with the help of Shi'ite militia, clawing back some territory.
"Our security forces have regained the initiative to launch qualitative operations on various fronts over the past three days and have achieved remarkable victories with the help of volunteers," said Major-General Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for the Iraqi military's commander-in-chief.
"We have regained the initiative and will not stop at liberating Mosul from ISIL terrorists, but all other parts," he said, mentioning Iraq's second main city in the far north seized by the insurgents on Monday.
A spokesman for Iraqi counter-terrorism forces said warplanes bombed a meeting of the banned Baath party leadership in Diyala province, killing 50 people including the son of Ezzat Ibrahim al-Douri, once a member of Saddam's ruling circle.
ISIL had thrust into Diyala two days ago, opening a second front to Baghdad's northeast, not far from the Iranian border.
The ISIL advance has been joined by former Baathist officers who were loyal to Saddam as well as disaffected armed groups and tribes who want to oust Maliki. Douri is believed to lead a Baathist militant group called the Naqshbandi Army.
IRAQI ARMY COUNTER-ATTACKS
They said army forces reasserted control over the small town of Ishaqi, also southeast of Samarra, to secure a road that links Baghdad to Samarra and the now ISIL-held cities of Tikrit and Mosul further north.
Troops backed by the Shi'ite Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia also retook the town of Muqdadiya northeast of Baghdad, and ISIL was dislodged from Dhuluiya after three hours of fighting with tribesmen, local police and residents, a tribal leader said.
It was far from clear whether government forces could sustain their reported revival against ISIL, given serious weaknesses including poor morale and corruption, and the risk of Iraq sundering into hostile sectarian entities remains high.
ISIL insurgents kept up their assaults on some fronts.
In Udhaim, 90 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, ISIL occupied the local municipal building, an official there told Reuters, and they directed mortar fire at the government protection force of the Baiji oil refinery, Iraq's largest.
Masked militants under the black flag of ISIL aim to create a state that would span a fragmenting Iraq and Syria, redrawing borders set by European colonial powers a century ago and menacing neighbours like Iran and Turkey.
Iraqi army started procedures to recruit citizen volunteers in response to Shia leader's call to fight ISIL militants, a military official said on Saturday.
In Basra, Iraq's main city in the mainly Shi'ite far south, hundreds of people volunteered to join the battle against ISIL, heeding a call to arms by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who commands unswerving loyalty from most Iraqi Shi'ites.
The volunteers, of all ages, were due to be given weapons and sent to a security centre in Basra later on Saturday ready to be transferred further north. "We the people of Basra obeyed our instructions to defend our country from south to north," said 63-year-old Kadhem Jassim.
The selection of citizen volunteers will "be based on guidelines prepared by the military leadership," the official said on condition of anonymity.
The volunteers are required to have military experience and background to be recruited in fight against, sources said.
"After the country religious leaders called on to fight, the General Command of the Armed Forces is opening its door to volunteers on condition that they will remain in their provinces as long as they are not needed in other provinces," Lt. Gen. Osman Ghanemy, operational chief in Iraqi Army, told Anadolu Agency.
Meanwhile, in Samarra -- the largest city of Salahuddin province -- Al-Maliki praised Shia and Sunni scholars' recent fatwas regarding the ISIL insurgency.
Some 8,000 Turkmen fighters have ALSO joined Iraqi army ranks to fight ISIL militants, according to a tribal source.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Anadolu Agency: "Youths from the tribes are doing joint patrols with Iraqi security forces inside and outside the city of Tal Afar to counter any possible attack from ISIL."
He added that the armed group requested from security leaders and tribal elders to let their militants pass safely through Tal Afar, but the request was rejected.
Last Mod: 14 Haziran 2014, 17:25