- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Doubts raised about Iraqi premier as US prepares new assistance to combat violent insurgency

WASHINGTON (AP) - The United States is preparing to send new aid to Iraq to help slow a violent insurgent march that is threatening to take over the nation’s north, officials said Wednesday. But the Obama administration offered only tepid support for Iraq’s beleaguered prime minister, and U.S. lawmakers openly questioned whether he should remain in power.

With no obvious replacement for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki - and no apparent intent on his part to step down - Washington is largely resigned to continue working with his Shiite-led government that has targeted Sunni political opponents and, in turn, has inflamed sectarian tensions across Iraq.

“He’s obviously not been a good prime minister,” said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “He has not done a good job of reaching out to the Sunni population, which has caused them to be more receptive to al-Qaida efforts.”

The panel’s chairman, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., noted only lukewarm support for al-Maliki, both in Iraq and among U.S. officials. “I don’t know whether or not he will actually be the prime minister again,” Menendez said. “I guess by many accounts, he may very well ultimately put (together) the coalition necessary to do that.”

Insurgents with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which is inspired by al-Qaida, overran the northern Iraqi town of Tikrit on Wednesday, a day after seizing Mosul, the nation’s second-largest city. The insurgent network has controlled the western city of Fallujah since the start of this year, and is fighting to take over Beiji, a key northern oil refinery town.

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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

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