SUNNI militants have captured two border crossings, one with Jordan and another with Syria, as they press on with their offensive in one of Iraq’s most turbulent regions.
Iraqi officials said militants from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) yesterday captured the Turaibil crossing with Jordan and the al-Walid crossing with Syria after government forces there pulled out.
The capture of the two crossings follows the fall since Friday of the towns of Qaim, Rawah, Anah and Rutba, all of which are in the Sunni Anbar province where Isis has controlled the city of Fallujah and parts of the provincial capital Ramadi since January.
The militants captured Rutba, about 90 miles east of the Jordanian border, late on Saturday night, officials said.
Residents were yesterday negotiating with the militants to leave after an army unit on the town’s outskirts threatened to start shelling.
The capture of Rawah on the Euphrates River and the nearby town of Anah appeared to be part of a march towards a key dam in the city of Haditha, the destruction of which would damage the country’s electrical grid and cause major flooding.
Taking Rutba gives the insurgents control over the final stretch of a major highway to neighbouring Jordan, a key artery for passengers and goods that has been infrequently used for months because of deteriorating security.
Iraqi military officials said more than 2,000 troops had been to the dam to protect it. Spokesman Lieutenant General Qassim al-Moussawi acknowledged the fall of the Anbar towns, saying government forces had made a tactical retreat and planned to retake them.
Isis and allied militants have carved out a large fiefdom along the Iraqi-Syrian border.
Prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government has struggled to push back Isis, which has seized large swathes of the country’s north.
Iraq has requested US airstrikes to help halt the advance but president Barack Obama has called on Iraqi leaders to form a more representative government in thinly veiled criticism of Mr Maliki.