Sunni allies in violent Kirkuk clashes as tensions mount
Isis seeking to create Islamic Caliphate from the Mediterranean Sea to Iran
Mehdi Army fighters loyal to Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr parade through the disputed Iraqi city of Kirkuk today. Photograph: Ako Rasheed/PA
Mehdi Army fighters loyal to Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr march during a parade in Najaf, Iraq. Photograph: Ahmad Mousa/Reuters
In a sign of a split in the coalition of Sunni Muslim forces supporting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), the militants clashed with an Iraqi Baathist faction allied with them today.
The clashes took place in western Kirkuk and the nearby town of Hawija, a longtime stronghold of the Men of the Army of Naqshabandi, a group formed by former army officers from the Saddam Hussein regime who joined Isis in its drive through Iraq.
A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with official policy, said militants from the two factions fought one another last night after Isis tried to disarm the Naqshabandi.
However, a witness in Hawija said the two factions fought over control of oil tanker trucks brought by the Sunni militants from the refinery at Baiji, which they have been attacking for nearly a week.
The security official said eight Naqshabandi militants and nine Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militants were killed.
The Naqshabandi group was formed under the leadership of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, one of Saddam Hussein’s few top commanders to escape capture by the US military.
The group includes Baathist party members and former military officers, and has a Sufi, nationalist philosophy that is at odds with the Isis ideology. The group was active in demonstrations in Hawija, one of its strongholds, last year that ended with at least 42 people killed when the Iraqi army tried to disperse protesters.
Except for Sunni neighborhoods of western Kirkuk, the city has been under the control of Kurdish peshmerga militiamen after the Iraqi army in the area collapsed.
The official Iraqi military spokesman, Gen Qassim Atta again claimed that Iraqi forces had regained the initiative. In a briefing for reporters, he said fighting was ongoing in al-Qaim, an important border crossing with Syria in western Anbar province that apparently fell under Isis control yesterday.
“We will not let them take any foot of our earth,” the general said. “We are the ones who are making the attacks.”
He said the militants had been particularly hard hit by Iraqi airstrikes. “You should see how those Isis run away when they hear even the sound of our air force,” he said.
Gen Atta played video from a gun camera that showed helicopter gunship bombing runs on groups of men who he said were Isis fighters and who were running in the streets of Tal Afar, a city west of Mosul in the north.