Alarm as Isis forces take key Jordan border crossing
Published 24/06/2014 | 02:30
The jihadist-led alliance running large parts of Iraq has consolidated its control of the country's western borders, taking a town, its airport and the key trade and transport crossing to Jordan as its trans-national "caliphate" becomes a reality.
The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Isis) and its allies, mainly Sunni tribes and former Baathist remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime, completed its takeover of Tal Afar in the north.
The Iraqi army's commander in the city, who, speaking by telephone from the nearby airport, had earlier vowed to hold out, was photographed fleeing under the protection of the Kurdish army.
The army had been based at the airport, now in Isis hands.
The group also took the Al-Waleed border crossing with Syria, while a Sunni tribe took the Turaibil crossing with Jordan and was negotiating with Isis to hand it over to their control, according to reports confirmed by the Iraqi army.
The Iraqi central government now has no presence on its western borders, with just one crossing with Syria, Rabia, in the hands of the Kurdish Regional Government, which is autonomous from, but notionally loyal to, Baghdad.
President Barack Obama indicated that while the US may have for the time being given up on Iraq, it is concerned by the threat that this "caliphate" poses to neighbours including Jordan, key for its positive relationship with Israel.
He said in a television interview that while no American help would make a difference to Iraq, if the country did not change political course "that could spill over into some of our allies like Jordan".
A group of about 60 young men staged a demonstration in the southern Jordanian town of Maan, shouting: "Today Iraq, tomorrow the caliphate. The caliphate is coming to Jordan."
King Abdullah of Jordan's position has been relatively untouched by the Arab Spring, but the threat of Islamic militancy is growing. The country is a patchwork of Bedouin tribes, Palestinians, Islamists and small Christian and other minorities that has taken all the diplomatic skills of successive monarchs to hold together.
Iraq's government has been able to slow the militants' advance on Baghdad, partly by calling on the support of Shia militias, the Kurdish peshmerga forces and advice from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and its Quds Force head, Qassim Suleimani.
But that has only reinforced the sectarian division of the country. The areas recently taken by Isis are part of the Sunni lands the group is trying to forge into a single caliphate with territory it already controls in Syria.
The victories are a triumph for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, its leader, who split off from the more cautious approach of al-Qa'ida's head, Ayman al-Zawahiri, earlier this year. Baghdadi seems to have noted that territorial control is both a powerful recruiting agent for Isis's force of foreign fighters, estimated at 40pc of its strength, and as a money-spinner.
It has been described as the world's richest terrorist group. Initially funded by rich sympathisers in the Gulf states, it is now self-financing. In northern Syria it has taken over several oil fields which it is exploiting, partly through a deal with the government of Bashar al-Assad to keep the oil flowing in return for a cut of the profits, according to Western intelligence. It also sells crude oil on the open market. (© Daily Telegraph, London)