December 12, 2013
Militants aim to create the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Iraq’s western desert near the Syrian border.
Militants tied to al-Qaeda have taken steps to create the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq’s western desert. Over the last few months of 2013, insurgents have stepped up attacks on strategic locations in the region, believed to have poor security and weak ties to the central Iraqi government.
After the U.S. surge of troops drove ISIL fighters from their strongholds in 2006-07, the group moved mostly underground to plot their next moves. In recent years, insurgents have joined with some rebel groups in neighboring Syria and hope to establish a state governed by strict Islamic law in the region.
The ISIL influence has been felt in both Syria and in Egypt, where leaders called on Egyptians to oppose authorities there. In Syria, ISIL fighters are active in the conflict and forced the U.S. and Britain to suspend non-lethal aid to rebels after Islamists seized buildings from Western-backed opposition groups.
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Copyright 2013 Reuters
ISIL in Iraq has unleashed bombing campaigns that have killed thousands of people in the worst violence seen in several years. It has also created two areas under its control near the northern city of Mosul and another in the Anbar desert, respectively called North and South al-Jazeera.
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ISIL insurgents have taken control of villages, valleys and grazing lands in the areas under their control. They have set up training camps, command bases and weapons stockpiles, while the Iraqi army remains scattered in military bases across the country.
“This is toxic, and the day will come, God forbid, when they will have another Islamic Emirate outside control.” Hoshyar Zebari, Iraqi foreign minister
The Iraqi foreign minister estimated the number of ISIL fighters operating in Iraq and Syria to be at 12,000. It wasn’t clear how much coordination exists between the Syrian and Iraqi wings of the ISIL, which formed earlier in 2013 from existing groups.