Iraqi forces launched a helicopter-borne assault on Thursday aimed at opening the way to retaking militant-held Tikrit, while the autonomous Kurdish region further staked its claim to the disputed city of Kirkuk.
Iraqi forces swooped into Tikrit by helicopter, taking control of a strategically located university after clashes with militants, officials said. Later on Thursday, a suicide bomb in Baghdad killed 19 people.
Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki conceded that political measures are needed alongside military action to repel an insurgent offensive that is threatening to tear Iraq apart. He spoke as British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged Iraqi leaders to unite in the face of the onslaught, led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), that has killed nearly 1,100 people and displaced more than half a million more.
“We should proceed in two parallel tracks,” Maliki’s office said he told Hague, who is on a surprise visit to Iraq.
In an interview with the BBC, Maliki said the Syrian air force had carried out strikes against militants on the Syrian side of the al Qaim border crossing, controlled by ISIL. He added that Iraq had purchased several fighter jets from Belarus and Russia.
The premier said Baghdad had not requested the Syrian strikes, but he ‘welcomed’ any such move against the ISIL-led militants.
The New York Times reported that Iran is flying surveillance drones over Iraq and sending military equipment to help Baghdad. Iraq appealed for US air strikes against the militants, but Washington has so far offered only up to 300 military advisers.
Meanwhile, another 50 US special operations forces arrived in Baghdad under the newly appointed command of a two-star general as the US military steadily ramps up an advisory mission aimed at helping Iraq battle back militants, the Pentagon said on Thursday.
Israel offers help
In an unprecedented move, Israel has offered to help Arab states over the Iraq crisis. It offered to help moderate Arab countries threatened by a lightning offensive by ISIL, as the country’s top diplomat met with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Kerry at a meeting in Paris that “the militants currently operating in Iraq will try to challenge the stability in the entire Gulf region, first of all in Kuwait,” a statement from his office said.
Thousands of Muslims in India also signed up to defend Iraq’s holy shrines and, if need be, fight the militants. These Indian Muslims have filled out forms, complete with passport-size photographs and photocopied identification documents, to travel to Iraq. Leaders of a religious organisation spearheading the effort said they might march to the Iraqi embassy in New Delhi to deliver the forms.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 27th, 2014.