AP News in Brief at 5:58 p.m. EDT

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

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Al-Qaida-inspired militants seize Iraqi city of Tikrit, pushing deeper into Sunni areas

BAGHDAD (AP) - Al-Qaida-inspired militants pushed deeper into Iraq’s Sunni heartland Wednesday, swiftly conquering Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit as soldiers and security forces abandoned their posts and yielded ground once controlled by U.S. forces.

The advance into former insurgent strongholds that had largely been calm before the Americans withdrew less than three years ago is spreading fear that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, struggling to hold onto power after indecisive elections, will be unable to stop the Islamic militants as they press closer to Baghdad.

Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militant group took control Tuesday of much of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, sending an estimated half a million people fleeing from their homes. As in Tikrit, the Sunni militants were able to move in after police and military forces melted away after relatively brief clashes.

The group, which has seized wide swaths of territory, aims to create an Islamic emirate spanning both sides of the Iraq-Syria border.

The capture of Mosul - along with the fall of Tikrit and the militants’ earlier seizure of the western city of Fallujah - have undone hard-fought gains against insurgents in the years following the 2003 invasion by U.S.-led forces.

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AP Analysis: 13 years into war on terror, Islamic militants as bold as ever across region

CAIRO (AP) - It has been a week of stunning advances by Islamic militants across a belt from Iraq to Pakistan. In Iraq, jihadi fighters rampaged through the country’s second-largest city and swept farther south in their drive to establish an extremist enclave stretching into Syria. Pakistan’s largest airport was paralyzed and rocked by explosions as gunmen stormed it in a dramatic show of strength.

More than a decade after the U.S. launched its “war on terrorism,” Islamic militant groups are bolder than ever, exploiting the erosion or collapse of central government control in a string of nations - Syria, Iraq and Pakistan - that are more strategically vital than the relatively failed states where al-Qaida set up its bases in the past: Somalia, Yemen and 1990s Afghanistan.

Most galling to Washington, the crumbling state power has come in countries that the United States has spent billions of dollars to try to strengthen over the past 13 years.

Policy failings by those governments have contributed to giving militants an opening.

Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has alienated the country’s Sunni community, which feels sidelined by his Shiite-led government. That has pushed some Sunnis into supporting the militants and undermined the military, which includes many Sunnis.

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