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Tags: Iraq | unrest

Iraq Sacks Top Officers as UN Warns of Break-up

Tuesday, 17 June 2014 03:43 PM EDT

Iraq's prime minister fired several top security commanders in a major shake-up Tuesday, as fighting approached Baghdad in a terrorist onslaught that the United Nations warned could break up the country.

More than a week after insurgents launched their lightning assault, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki dismissed several senior security force officers, including the top commander for Nineveh province in the north, the first to fall.

Al-Maliki also ordered that one of the officers he fired face court-martial for desertion.

The dismissals came after soldiers and police fled as insurgents swept into Nineveh's capital Mosul, a city of two million people. They abandoned their vehicles and threw off their uniforms. 

As officials trumpet a counter-offensive, doubts are growing that Iraq's security forces can hold back the militant tide.

After taking Mosul, the jihadists captured a major chunk of mainly Sunni Arab territory stretching towards the capital.

The offensive has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and sent jitters through world oil markets, as the militants have advanced ever nearer Baghdad leaving the Shiite-led government in disarray.

Officials said on Tuesday that militants briefly held parts of the city of Baquba, just 40 miles from the capital.

They also took control of most of Tal Afar, a strategic Shiite-majority town between Mosul and the border with Syria, where the Islamists also have fighters engaged in that country's three-year-old civil war.

The overnight attack on Baquba, which was repulsed by security forces but left 44 prisoners dead at a police station, marked the closest the fighting has come to the capital.

In Tal Afar, militants controlled most of the town but pockets of resistance remained.

Further south, security personnel abandoned the Iraqi side of a key crossing on the border with Syria, officers said.

The swift advance of the militants has sparked international alarm, with UN envoy to Baghdad Nickolay Mladenov warning that Iraq's territorial integrity is at stake.

"Right now, it's life-threatening for Iraq, but it poses a serious danger to the region," Mladenov told AFP. "Iraq faces the biggest threat to its sovereignty and territorial integrity."

The violence has stoked regional tensions, with Iraq accusing neighboring Saudi Arabia on Tuesday of "siding with terrorism" and of being responsible for financing the militants.

The comments came a day after the Sunni kingdom blamed "sectarian" policies by Iraq's Shiite-led government for triggering the unrest.

The prime minister of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region told the BBC it would be "almost impossible" for the country to return to how it was before the offensive, and called for Sunni Arabs to be granted an autonomous region of their own.

Alarmed by the collapse of much of the security forces in the face of the militant advance, foreign governments have begun pulling out diplomatic staff.

U.S. President Barack Obama announced that 275 military personnel "equipped for combat" were being deployed to Iraq to help protect the embassy in Baghdad and assist American citizens.

Washington has already deployed an aircraft carrier to the Gulf, but Obama has ruled out a return to combat in Iraq for U.S. soldiers.

The jihadists are said to have killed scores of Iraqi soldiers as they pushed their advance, including in a "horrifying" massacre in Salaheddin province that has drawn international condemnation.

© AFP 2022

Iraq's prime minister fired several top security commanders in a major shake-up Tuesday, as fighting approached Baghdad in a terrorist onslaught that the United Nations warned could break up the country.
Iraq, unrest
Tuesday, 17 June 2014 03:43 PM
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