WASHINGTON (CBS DC/CBS News) — Islamic militants inspired by Al-Qaeda have captured two towns in the ethnically mixed province northeast of Baghdad, vowing to push toward Iraq’s capital city.
Seizing on gains already made with the capture of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, on Tuesday, Iraq’s al-Qaeda offshoots have come into possession of heavy weapons and vehicles as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government attempts to form a unified response to the militants. The ISIS forces also captured two towns near Baghdad on Thursday evening.
Police officials said machine gun-mounted pickups filled with militants poured into two towns in the Diyala province late Thursday – Jalula, about 80 miles northeast of Baghdad, and Sadiyah, 60 miles north of Iraq’s capital city.
Iraqi soldiers abandoned their posts there without any resistance, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media. The officials also said Kurdish forces from northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region entered Jalula to secure offices of Kurdish parties in the town but no clashes were reported between the two groups.
CBS News reports that this is the biggest threat to Iraq’s stability since U.S. troop withdrawal at the end of 2011.
CBS News’ Holly Williams reports a cell phone video showed the Islamic militants putting on a show of force in Mosul, parading vehicles captured from Iraq’s military through the country’s second biggest city.
As the militants sweep through northern Iraq, many government soldiers have dropped their weapons and run – despite billions of dollars in American military aid.
In the city of Tikrit an Iraqi army post now stands abandoned, and amateur video shows militants marching hundreds of captured soldiers through the streets.
Just 80 miles from Tikrit is Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region that’s been relatively peaceful since the U.S. invasion in 2003.
So far, its well-disciplined fighters have not got involved directly, but they have taken over positions abandoned by the Iraqi military.
Juaud Mohammed is a Kurdish leader who told CBS News the Iraqi soldiers simply melted away.
“The Iraqi army is useless,” he said. “They don’t fight for any principles.”
Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled the violence, but very few of them blame the militants.
Like the armed extremists, they’re Sunni Muslims and resent the government in Baghdad.
But as the militants push further south, they’ll reach areas with mainly Shia Muslim populations as well as Shia militias loyal to Iraq’s government.
In an internet post Friday, the militants threatened to destroy shrines considered holy by Shia Muslims. That would almost certainly set off more deadly violence but on a much larger scale.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS) have formed a terrorist-based military force that is over-running the Iraqi government army that the U.S. military trained for almost a decade. Police officials tell CBS News that Iraqi soldiers abandoned their posts in the two towns as ISIS fighters have vowed to continue their march toward Baghdad.
Saddam Hussein-era loyalists have joined the ISIS militant forces along with other groups of disaffected Sunnis.
The Daily Beast reports ISIS is making good on their campaign to take over Mosul. On Twitter, ISIS posted a photo and video of Umar al-Shishani, a senior ISIS commander, examining a captured American-made Humvee, which had already been driven from the Iraqi city to the eastern Syrian town of Deir ez-Zor. “Umar al-Shishani inspects spoils of war…Looks quite pleased,” the reads the Twitter post.
Groups of militants with loudspeakers are heard urging the Iraqi people of newly-captured Jalula and Sadiyah “to liberate Baghdad and Jersualem.” The Islamic State’s black banners are seen draped along US-made vehicles that have been captured. The crows is heard chanting, “God is with you” to the militant fighters.
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged the Iraqi people to defend its holy sites and confront the terrorist groups’ push toward Baghdad.