Key Iraq town, airport fall to militants
BAGHDAD – The strategic north Iraq town of Tal Afar and its airport were in the hands of militants on Monday after days of heavy fighting, a local official and witnesses said.
“The town of Tal Afar and the airport… are completely under the control of the militants,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Witnesses said security forces had departed the town, and confirmed that militants were in control.
Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s security spokesman, Lieutenant General Qassem Atta, said on television that security forces were still fighting in the Tal Afar area. But he added: “Even if we withdrew from Tal Afar or any other area, this does not mean that it is a defeat.” Tal Afar, which is located along a strategic corridor to Syria, had been the largest town in the northern province of Nineveh not to fall to militants.
Militants have seized the Al-Waleed border post between Iraq and Syria, officers said on Monday, meaning that all crossings between the neighboring countries are now outside government control.
The militants took the crossing on Sunday, a colonel and a captain in the border guards said.
Security forces that had been guarding it headed south to join troops at another crossing with Jordan, they said.
The two other official crossings between Iraq and Syria, Al-Qaim and Rabia, are also outside government hands, with militants holding the first and security forces from the country’s autonomous Kurdish region in control of the second.
With the seizure of Al-Waleed, the militants have increased their ability to bring men and materiel across the border from Syria and have tightened their control over western Iraq.
Kuwait has withdrawn its ambassador from Iraq due to the security situation there, a Kuwaiti official told Reuters on Monday.
“We told our ambassador and diplomatic team (to leave) more than a week ago … This is because of the security situation in Iraq. When we feel the situation has become stable and normal again they will go back,” said Khaled Al-Jarallah, Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry Undersecretary.