BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON, June 28 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi government troops and armed extremists continued to fight near Baghdad and in Tikrit Saturday, even as Washington downplayed the threat of Iraqi militants.
Police source told Xinhua that 25 security forces members were killed and some 22 others wounded in fierce battles during the day near the towns of Jurf al-Sakhar, some 50 km south of Baghdad, and Mahmoudiyah, 30 km south of Baghdad, as well as the town of al-Rasheed, just south of Baghdad.
The Sunni militants involved in the clashes included those linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaida offshoot, the source from Babil province, where the areas are located, told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
The battles also resulted in the killing and wounding of dozens of the militants.
The areas of the battles are part of a restive area, dubbed as Triangle of Death, which is a cluster of towns scattered north of Babil's provincial capital city of Hilla, some 100 km south of Baghdad.
Iraq has been witnessing its worst security conditions that began more than two weeks ago when armed Sunni insurgents, spearheaded by the al-Qaida splinter group ISIL, launched a surprise offensive that led to the debacle of Iraqi security forces, and the fall of a large part of the country's northern and western territories.
Also on Saturday, Iraqi security forces launched a major offensive to retake control of the city of Tikrit, the capital of the Sunni-dominant province of Salahudin, which has been seized by the Sunni militants earlier in the month, a security source said.
Dozens of military vehicles, backed by tanks, armored vehicles and helicopter gunships advanced in the early morning from four routes toward the city of Tikrit, some 170 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
The main route of the troops was launched from the areas near the city of Samarra, some 50 km south of Tikrit, but the security forces were stopped by the Sunni militants near the town of Dijla, some 25 km south of Tikrit, the source said, adding that the gunmen booby-trapped the buildings and all the roads leading to Tikrit to hamper the troops advance.
Iraqi aircraft carried out intensive air strikes in and around the city of Tikrit, targeting the posts of the Sunni militant, including those who are linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaida offshoot, the source said without giving further details.
On June 11, militant groups took control of the city of Tikrit when hundreds of gunmen entered the city during the advance of the Sunni militants.
The seizure of Tikrit was part of deterioration in security which started in province of Nineveh earlier in the month when bloody clashes broke out between security forces and Sunni militants, who have seized several key Iraqi cities, and large swathes of territories in several Sunni provinces, including the province of Salahudin and its capital Tikrit, the hometown of late president Saddam Hussein.
In Washington, Obama on Friday downplayed the threat posed by Islamic militants making lightening advances in Iraq, saying the United States has been under "serious threat" during his entire presidency.
In an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America", the president was asked about the threat by ISIL, as his former ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker had described the splinter group of al-Qaida as one that "will be coming our way" with 2,000 fighters holding Western passports.
"I think we have been under serious threat my entire presidency," Obama said. "And we have been under serious threat predating 9/11 from those who embrace this ideology."
He acknowledged that the group was gaining strength as it obtained more weaponry and cash in its rapid push in northern and western Iraq in the past two weeks.
"They're gaining strength in some places, but we've also got a lot better at protecting ourselves," he said.
The Obama administration is sending as many as 300 military advisors to Iraq in addition to stepped-up surveillance and intelligence gathering in the Arab country, but it has held off airstrikes on ISIL targets as requested by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
The administration asked Congress on Thursday for 500 million dollars to train and equip vetted members of Syria's opposition, as ISIL fighters are fighting both inside Iraq and Syria.
However, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Saturday that his country will not stand idly toward the rampant terrorism in the region.
"Russia will not stand idly toward some groups' attempts to spread terrorism in the region, including Syria and Iraq," Ryabkov told a press conference during a visit to Syria, without elaborating how his country would react to such issues.
He also said terrorism is by no means justified, and must be combated and eliminated regardless of whatever circumstances or names it may come under, referring to the recent Sunni offensive led by the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, an al-Qaida offshoot.
He called more efforts, concerted measures and a strong position from all related parties to turn the tide of terrorism around, adding that the United States needs to take "serious steps" to fight the terrorism that is threatening the entire Middle East.
It is "not permissible" to treat the "dangerous challenge" that is rocking Iraq and the region with indifference, said the senior Russian diplomat.
Obama downplays threat by Islamic militants in Iraq
WASHINGTON, June 27 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday downplayed the threat posed by Islamic militants making lightening advances in Iraq, saying the United States has been under "serious threat" during his entire presidency.
In an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" program, the president was asked about the threat by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), as his former ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker had described the splinter group of al-Qaida as one that " will be coming our way" with 2,000 fighters holding Western passports. Full story
Political, military tracks necessary in Iraq crisis: PM
BAGHDAD, June 26 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki said Thursday that the political track is necessary to go with the military track in fighting against the blitzkrieg of the Sunni extremist groups.
"There have to be two parallel tracks to proceed: the first is the work on the ground and military operations against the terrorists, and the second is to follow up the political process and holding the meeting of the Council of Representatives ( Parliament) on time," Maliki told British Foreign Secretary William Hague during their meeting in the capital Baghdad, according to a statement issued by Maliki's office. Full story