UK & World News

  • 23 June 2014, 10:27

Iraqi Troops 'Withdraw' In Face Of ISIS Offensive

Islamist militants have captured four towns in western Iraq, according to Sky sources.

Haditha, Anah, Rawa, Rotba - along with a number of villages- were taken as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) swept east from the Syrian border, where it captured a border crossing on Saturday, in its latest offensive.

Speaking from Baghdad, Sky's Foreign Affairs Editor Sam Kiley said: "This offensive coming from the west is very significant as it appears the Iraqi army has folded-up without a fight.

"These are major strategic prizes, not necessarily big towns but all of them on the main route to Syria and on the Euphrates river.

"The big prize appears to be Haditha. There are conflicting reports whether it has fallen, but its collapse looks imminent.

"It contains a very important power-generating plant for Baghdad. If you combine that with the shut down of supply from the main oil refinery and power stations in Baiji, you can see the ISIS have a tactic of putting the squeeze on power supplies to Baghdad.

"That will further weaken the extremely fragile position of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki who is getting criticism from all sides and seems incapable of mustering any spirit in his army or making any political concessions that could shore up support among his critics."

Thousands of troops had reportedly been deployed in Haditha to protect a dam on the river Euphrates and it was not immediately clear who controlled the facility.

Lieutenant General Qassem Atta of the Iraqi army said the government's forces had made a "tactical" withdrawal from three of the towns in Anbar province.

"The military units' withdrawal was for the purpose of redeployment," he said.

ISIS had already taken control of the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in predominantly Sunni Anbar province before it seized Iraq's second city Mosul, and Baiji, home to the country's largest oil refinery, in an aggressive offensive in the north.

Young Iraqis have been flocking to recruitment centres at the weekend to join the counter-offensive against the ISIS. According to official records, some two million young men have volunteered in the past seven days.

Government airstrikes on Tikrit, north of Baghdad, killed at least seven people, according to witnesses.

Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith has said the UK could provide logistical support if the US were to begin its own bombing raids.

"The Government has said it's not going to be doing any airstrikes or putting soldiers into Iraq but I think there are lots of other things we can do to help support them," he said.

He suggested Britain could "make sure they get the right spare parts and support in maintaining those kind of aircraft and equipment and also support the Americans where they need it in terms of supply, et cetera."

Meanwhile, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani warned that any country funding or arming the ISIS could become the group's next target.

Although Rouhani did not specifically name particular countries, officials in Iran have suggested Saudi Arabia and Qatar could be channelling funding to the group.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, has arrived in the region for talks aimed at healing some of the differences between Iraq's leaders and ending the crisis.

He is currently in Cairo  for talks with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, and will later meet Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in Amman.