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Maliki 'welcomes Syrian strikes' on rebels

Iraqi PM tells BBC of air raids on Syrian side of border as UK foreign minister arrives in Baghdad for talks on crisis.

Last updated: 26 Jun 2014 13:52
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The purported Syrian raids came after Sunni rebels took control of al-Qaim on the Iraqi side [Reuters]

The Syrian air force has carried out air raids against Sunni rebels on the Syrian side of the Iraq-Syria border this week, the Iraqi prime minister has told the BBC.

Nouri al-Maliki on Thursday told the British broadcaster he "welcomed" any such strike against the rebels, led by the formerly al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), adding that his government did not request Tuesday's aerial raids.

On Wednesday al-Qaeda's Syrian arm, al-Nusra Front, also made a local pledge of allegiance to ISIL, further bolstering the group's control of the border area.

The purported raids by Syria came after ISIL-led fighters took control of the border town of al-Qaim on the Iraqi side of the frontier, providing them a strategic route into Syria, where the group is also active.

Overnight ISIL seized a town near Baghdad, Mansouriyat al-Jabal, that is home to four natural gas fields where foreign companies operate, security forces said.

ISIL fighters have overrun large parts of five provinces north and west of Baghdad, leaving more than 1,000 people dead and displacing hundreds of thousands.

On the diplomatic front, William Hague, the British foreign secretary, arrived in Baghdad on Thursday for talks with Maliki centred on the crisis gripping the country.

Hague was also scheduled to meet Osama al-Nujaifi, Iraqi parliament speaker, and other political leaders.

Britain has recently ruled out any military involvement in Iraq, but Hague said a British "operational liaison and reconnaissance team" arrived in Baghdad over the weekend and that Britain would provide humanitarian assistance as needed.

He has also said that as many as 400 British citizens may be fighting in Syria and that some may also be fighting in Iraq with ISIL.

Iraq's presidency said a session of parliament would be held on July 1, the first step to forming a new government that many hope will be inclusive enough to undermine the ISIL campaign.

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