Iraq army in tug-of-war fights with Sunni militants

Baghdad : Iraqi security forces Monday continued their battle against Sunni militant groups in Salahudin province, as an Al Qaeda offshoot group declared the establishment of an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria.

Earlier in the day, helicopter gunships pounded a neighbourhood in the centre of the city of Baiji, some 200 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, leaving six people dead and up to 13 wounded along with damaging five houses and two shops, a Salahudin provincial police source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

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Earlier, insurgent groups overran the oil refinery city of Baiji as well as large parts of the predominantly Sunni province of Salahudin, but security forces managed to keep control over the refinery just outside the city despite repeated attacks by the militants to seize it.

Separately, fierce battles erupted during the day between security forces and Sunni militants, including those who belonged to the Islamic State, previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), an Al Qaeda breakaway group, in al-Deum area, just north of Salahudin’s provincial capital city of Tikrit, about 170 km north of Baghdad, the source said.

Late Sunday, the ISIS, which seized large areas in Syria and in Iraq, formally declared the establishment of a caliphate in both countries and demanded allegiance from all Muslims.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, was declared the caliph or religious ruler of the caliphate, according to an online audio recording.

The new caliphate is an attempt to revive the system of Islamic religious rule which ended about 100 years ago with the fall of the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

The troops moved from their military base north of Tikrit, which previously was used by the US forces under the name Camp Speicher, towards the northern part of Tikrit in an attempt to link up with the previously seized foothold in the compound of Tikrit University, but their attempt was foiled by the tough resistance of the militants, the source said.

The militant-seized city of Tikrit was the target of a major offensive Saturday by the Iraqi security forces which advanced to the city from four routes, but apparently were repelled by the Sunni militants who stopped the troops near the town of Dijla.

On June 11, Sunni militants, including those who are linked to the ISIS, took control of the city of Tikrit after security forces fled the scene.

“The Islamic State decided to establish an Islamic caliphate and to designate a caliph for the state of the Muslims,” spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani said in a recorded statement.

Al-Adnani called on Muslims everywhere, not just those in areas under the group’s control, to swear loyalty to al-Baghdadi and support him.

“The Jihadi cleric al-Baghdadi is the caliph of Muslims everywhere,” al-Adnani said, adding that Muslims should “listen to your caliph and obey him”.

“Support your state, which grows every day,” he said.

The declaration was made on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and is expected to trigger a wave of infighting among the Sunni militant groups which formed a sort of loose alliance in the blitzkrieg in the Sunni-dominated provinces in Iraq.