[QODLink]
Middle East

Iraqi forces bolster defence of Baghdad

Pentagon says Iraqi army appears to be strengthening its position after rebels briefly hold areas close to capital.

Last updated: 18 Jun 2014 03:08
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Policemen dig trenches in the Iraqi town of Taji, at Baghdad's entrance, as security forces bolster defences [AFP]

Iraqi forces appear to be rallying and bolstering their defence of Baghdad as Sunni rebels sweep across the country's north, the Pentagon says.

"We also have reason to believe - certainly indications - that the Iraqi security forces are stiffening their resistance and their defence and are coalescing, particularly in and around Baghdad, and that's encouraging," Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.

With Iraqi troops now receiving help from Shia volunteers, Kirby said "it certainly appears as if they have the will to defend the capital".

Rebel group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has staged a stunning advance over the past week that has sent the United States-trained Iraqi government army into a retreat.

After taking Mosul, ISIL's fighters captured a large area of mainly Sunni territory stretching towards the capital and overnight briefly held parts of Baquba, the provincial capital of Diyala province 60km north of Baghdad, before being repelled by government forces.

Sackings, court martial for desertion

The US spent millions of dollars over several years training and arming a new Iraqi army after disbanding the Sunni-led force created by the late dictator Saddam Hussein.

Kirby has acknowledged the Pentagon was "certainly disappointed in the performance of some of these units".

Iraqi soldiers and police in some cases fled en masse before the ISIL offensive, abandoning their vehicles and uniforms.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sacked several senior officers over the recent defeats and ordered one of them to face court-martial for desertion.

US President Barack Obama has already deployed about 160 troops to Baghdad to strengthen security for the US embassy and has approximately another 100 forces ready outside of Iraq for various "contingency" operations.

But Kirby said indications that Iraqi troops could be improving their defences did not mean the White House would take more time to weigh potential military action.

Appeal for unity

Earlier on Tuesday Maliki broadcast a joint appeal for national unity with Sunni critics of his Shia-led government.

Hours after Maliki's Shia allies had vowed to boycott any cooperation with the biggest Sunni party, Shia, Sunni and Kurdish leaders met behind closed doors.

They then stood before cameras as Maliki's Shia predecessor Ibrahim al-Jaafari read a statement denouncing "terrorist powers" and supporting Iraqi sovereignty.

"No terrorist powers represent any sect or religion," Jaafari said in the address, which included a broad promise of "reviewing the previous course" of Iraqi politics.

Afterwards, most of the leaders, including Maliki and Osama al-Nujaifi, the Iraqi parliamentary speaker, walked away from each other in silence.

427

Source:
Agencies
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
Muslim volunteers face questioning and threat of arrest, while aid has been disrupted or blocked, charities say.
Six months on, outrage and sorrow over the mass schoolgirl abduction has disappeared - except for families in Nigeria.
ISIL combatants seeking an 'exit strategy' from Mideast conflict need positive reinforcement back home, analysts say.
European nation hit by a wave of Islamophobia as many young fighters join ISIL in Syria and Iraq.
Featured
Lack of child protection laws means abandoned and orphaned kids rely heavily on the care of strangers.
At least 25 tax collectors have been killed since 2012 in Mogadishu, a city awash in weapons and abject poverty.
Since she was 16-years-old, Scottish Nationalist Party's Sturgeon has strove for independence from the UK.
Armed group's ransom success with German hostages marks a re-emergence, as authorities investigate ISIL links.
Western nations are moving into the resource-rich country after decades of disinterest, challenging China's interests.