Rampant jihadists firm up control of Iraq-Syria border

Rampant jihadists firm up control of Iraq-Syria border
Iraqi residents from the city of Ramadi, who fled their homes as Islamic State (IS) group militants tightened their siege on the last government positions in the capital of Anbar province.

BAGHDAD - The Islamic State group took full control of a border crossing between Iraq and Syria Sunday, tightening its grip on the heart of its self-proclaimed caliphate.

The move gave IS control of the two main roads between Syria and Iraq's province of Anbar, as the jihadists pressed their most devastating offensive in months.

The latest success came a week after IS captured the Iraqi city of Ramadi and days after it seized the historic Syrian city of Palmyra, two of the group's most significant military victories in almost a year.

The jihadists seized Al-Walid border post early Sunday when Iraqi government forces pulled back to a nearby crossing with Jordan. IS had taken the Syrian side of the crossing on Thursday.

"There was no military support for the security forces and there weren't enough of them to protect the crossing," Suad Jassem, the head of Anbar's border commission, said.

"Daesh (IS) now controls both sides of both crossings," she said, referring to another crossing between Anbar and Syria further north that the jihadists seized last year.

The surge by a group described as the most violent in modern jihad raised further questions about the efficiency of the US-led coalition's eight-month air campaign.

Coalition warplanes have conducted more than 3,000 strikes in Iraq and Syria since August 2014 and dozens more were carried out in recent days in a bid to contain the rampant jihadists.

There were seven in Anbar alone in a period of 24 hours straddling May 22-23 as Iraqi government and allied forces began to claw back territory from IS east of Ramadi.

Ramadi fightback 

On Saturday, Iraqi forces retook Husaybah, a rural town in the Euphrates Valley seven kilometres (4.5 miles) east of Ramadi.

The area's most prominent Sunni tribal leader, Sheikh Rafia Abdelkarim al-Fahdawi, deployed his forces, whose knowledge of the terrain is key, alongside fighters from the Hashed al-Shaabi, an umbrella for Shiite militia and volunteers.

A police colonel said the Husaybah operation also involved local and federal police, and the interior ministry's rapid intervention force as well as the army.

Swift action was seen as essential to prevent IS from laying booby traps across Ramadi, which would make any advance in the city more risky and complicated.

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