Shiite militia have paraded in several Iraq cities with heavy weaponry, signaling their readiness to take on rebels who have seized much of the country’s north. Overnight, ISIS fighters took a border crossing with Syria.
In Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, on Saturday, about 20,000 men, many in combat gear, marched through the Sadr City district with assault rifles, machine guns, multiple rocket launchers and missiles. The southern cities of Amarah and Basra held similar parades.
Adherents of the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr held the parades after the al Qaeda breakaway group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and allied Sunni rebels captured a border crossing overnight. On Saturday, officials said that ISIS had seized the crossing near the Syrian border in the town of Qaim, about 320 kilometers (200 miles) west of Baghdad, after battling troops throughout the previous day.
Taking advantage of the disconnect between Iraq’s various political factions and ethnicities, the well-financed ISIS has carved out a large swath of territory along the border and earlier this month seized Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul. Fighters in Syria’s civil war and Iraq’s recent uprising have long traveled back and forth across the porous border, but controlling the crossing will allow them to more easily move weapons and heavy equipment to different battlefields.
On Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern that both Iraq and Syria were on the brink of total collapse. US President Barack Obama had announced on Thursday that he was prepared to launch targeted airstrikes against ISIS if necessary. However, on Friday, Ban warned that military intervention could backfire.
“Military strikes against [ISIS] might have little lasting effect or even be counterproductive if there is no movement toward an inclusive government in Iraq,” the secretary-general said. He added that only a political solution could end the violence in the two neighboring countries. “Suddenly, the cohesion and integrity of two major countries, not just one, is in question,” Ban told the Asia Society on Friday in New York City.
Many have speculated that the conflicts in Iraq and Syria could spread to the broader region.
mkg/rc (AP, AFP)