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Iraq militia parades as insurgents seize crossing

By The Associated Press

This article was published June 21, 2014 at 8:54 a.m.

BAGHDAD — Thousands of heavily-armed Shiite militiamen paraded through several Iraqi cities on Saturday as Sunni militants seized two strategically located towns in what appeared to be a new offensive in the western Anbar province.

The capture of the two towns — Qaim on the Syrian border Friday and Rawah on the Euphrates river Saturday— dealt another blow to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, which has struggled to push back against Islamic extremists and allied militants who have seized large swaths of the country's north, including the second-largest city of Mosul.

But while al-Maliki has come under mounting pressure to reach out to disaffected Kurds and Sunnis, the display of heavy weapons by the Shiite fighters indicated that forces beyond Baghdad's control may be pushing the conflict toward a sectarian showdown.

Sunni militants have controlled the city of Fallujah in Anbar and parts of the provincial capital of Ramadi since January. The vast Anbar province stretches from the western edges of Baghdad all the way to Jordan and Syria to the northwest. The fighting in Anbar has greatly disrupted use of the highway linking Baghdad to the Jordanian border, a key artery for goods and passengers.

In Baghdad, about 20,000 men, many in combat gear, marched through the Sadr City district with assault rifles, machine guns, multiple rocket launchers, field artillery and missiles. Similar parades took place in the southern cities of Amarah and Basra.

The parades were staged by followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who once led a powerful militia that battled U.S. troops and was blamed for some of the mass killing of Sunni civilians during the sectarian bloodletting that peaked in 2006 and 2007.

Police and army officials said the al-Qaida breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, along with allied militants, seized Qaim and its crossing, about 320 kilometers (200 miles) west of Baghdad, after killing some 30 Iraqi troops in daylong clashes Friday.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists, said people were now crossing back and forth freely.

Chief military spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi acknowledged Qaim's fall, telling journalists that troops aided by local tribesmen sought to clear the city of "terrorists."

The mayor of Rawah, Hussein AIi al-Aujail, said Sunni militants captured the town Saturday. The local army and police force pulled out when the militants took control, he said.

He said militants ransacked government offices in the town, along the Euphrates River some 175 miles (275 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad.

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HotSpringsLawyer says... June 21, 2014 at 11:02 a.m.

The Sunni tribes may be helping ISIL now to try to escape what they see as oppression by the Shiite government, but there is no way they are going to submit to Al Qaeda control or strict Sharia law in the long run.

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Nodmcm says... June 21, 2014 at 12:31 p.m.

Face it, the Sunni branch of Islam has controlled Iraq for 1000 years, even though Sunnis are numerically in the minority in Iraq. Once left alone, the Sunnis will again regain control. This is apparently the natural order of things in that nation. Sort of like how Arkansas always lost to Texas in college football, it never mattered which team was better, because the natural order of things was that Texas was "superior" to Arkansas. So why spend more money trying to change something that has been that way for a thousand years? Why is it so hard to leave other people alone?

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FreeSpiritMan says... June 21, 2014 at 2:03 p.m.

Nodmcm ........ says "Why is it so hard to leave other people alone?"
Because a lot of conservatives in high places do not like anyone they perceive different from them in looks, talk, language, culture, religious beliefs, ideology, sexual preference, gender identity or the way they dress. So, they try to make them submit to their above way of life. Now, that was not so hard to understand was it?

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lazybar says... June 21, 2014 at 2:46 p.m.

bs boy, we the people and other nations been doing the same thing for hundreds of years. long before the conservitives started trying to save the world or the liberals started ruinning it.

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