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ISIS militants still pressing forward and seize western Iraqi town

By Tajuddin
Feb 15th, 2015
ISIS militant soldiers on the frontline

ISIS militant soldiers on the frontline

Baghdad ( Agencies + DIPLOMAT.SO) – Iraqi soldiers and militants of the Islamic State group clashed again over the weekend in a western Iraqi town that has changed hands several times in skirmishes near a military base where American troops are training Iraqi soldiers.

Hundreds of Islamic State fighters captured most of the town, Baghdadi, on Thursday, but by Friday evening Iraqi soldiers had retaken several government buildings.

Then early Saturday, in what has become a familiar routine, the soldiers suddenly withdrew, all but handing the town back to the militants, according to local security officials.

“I have no explanation,” Col. Shaaban al-Obeidi, a commander in a police combat unit in Baghdadi, said on Saturday afternoon, adding that the militants were surrounding a residential complex where hundreds of civilians were staying. “They have put all those families in danger,” Colonel Obeidi said.

Eight months after Islamic State militants stormed areas of northern and western Iraq, lapses by the army have left the militants in control of important towns, despite airstrikes by the United States and other forms of military support for the Iraqi troops.

Concerns about the army’s performance have also threatened to delay a long-awaited offensive on Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.

The militants have been especially resilient in the western province of Anbar, including around the Ayn al-Asad base, near Baghdadi, where about 300 American troops are training Iraqi soldiers.

On Friday morning, eight militants tried to infiltrate the base, raising concerns that the American soldiers could be drawn into ground combat.

The American troops were “several kilometers” away, the United States military said in a statement, and Iraqi soldiers killed the militants before they could attack.

The sudden withdrawal of Iraqi forces on Saturday highlighted the challenges facing the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as it tries to unify and professionalize the forces fighting the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

An ad hoc effort has emerged on the ground, in which Kurdish and Shiite militias that answer to their own commanders have made the most impressive battlefield gains, undermining the standing of the government.

The militia fighters have also been accused of carrying out revenge attacks against Sunnis, further eroding the government’s authority. On Saturday, unidentified militia fighters were blamed for the assassination of a prominent Sunni tribal leader, Sheikh Qasim Sweidan al-Janabi, whose body, along with those of his son and nine bodyguards, was found dumped near a bridge in Baghdad.

Mohamed al-Karbouli, a member of Iraq’s Parliament, said Mr. Janabi and his nephew Zaid al-Janabi, who is also a lawmaker, were ambushed by militants in pickup trucks in southern Baghdad on Friday as they returned from a funeral in Latifiya, south of the capital.

Zaid al-Janabi was beaten and then released, Mr. Karbouli said. He added that he blamed “government silence over the predominance of militias in Baghdad” for creating the conditions that led to the deaths.

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