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.
Once border guards heard that al-Qaim had fallen, they left their
posts and militants moved in, the sources said.
Sameer al-Shwiali, media adviser to the commander of Iraq's
anti-terrorist squad, told Reuters that the Iraqi army was still in
control of al-Qaim.
Al-Qaim and its neighbouring Syrian counterpart Albukamal are on a
strategic supply route. A three-year civil war in Syria has left
most of eastern Syria in the hands of Sunni militants, including the
The Albukamal gate is run by al Qaeda's official Syria branch, the
Nusra Front, which has clashed with ISIL but has also agreed to
localised truces when it suits both sides.
The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring
group, Rami Abdulrahman, said ISIL has pushed the Nusra Front out
from many areas of eastern Syria in the past few days and their
capture of al-Qaim will allow them to quickly move to the Syrian
ISIL already controls territory around the Abukamal gate,
effectively pinching the Nusra Front between its forces in Syria and
those in neighbouring Iraq, said Abdulrahman, who tracks the
With stunning speed, ISIL, an offshoot of al Qaeda, has captured
swathes of territory in northwest and central Iraq, including the
second city, Mosul. They have seized large amounts of weaponry from
the fleeing Iraqi army and looted banks.
The fighting has divided Iraq along sectarian lines. The Kurds have
expanded their zone in the northeast to include the oil city of
Kirkuk, which they regard as part of Kurdistan, while Sunnis have
taken ground in the west.
The Shi'ite-led government has mobilised militia to send volunteers
to the front lines.
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President Barack Obama has offered up to 300 U.S. special forces
advisers to help the Iraqi government recapture territory seized by
ISIL and other Sunni armed groups across northern and western Iraq.
But he has held off granting a request for air strikes to protect
the government and renewed a call for Iraq's long-serving Shi'ite
prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, to do more to overcome sectarian
divisions that have fuelled resentment among the Sunni minority.
In Baghdad's Shi'ite slum of Sadr City, thousands of fighters
wearing military fatigues marched through the streets.
They carried rocket-propelled grenades, semi-automatic rifles and
trucks had mounted long-range rockets, including the new 3-metre
“Muqtada 1” missile, named after Shi'ite cleric Muqtada Sadr, who
has tens of thousands of followers.
Sadr has yet to throw his fighters into the recent wave of fighting
but has criticised Maliki for mishandling the crisis.
"These brigades are sending a message of peace. They are the
brigades of peace. They are ready to sacrifice their souls and blood
for the sake of defending Iraq and its generous people," a man on a
podium said as the troops marched by.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Writing by Oliver
Holmes; Editing by Jon Boyle)
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