Iraq: Syrian regime air strikes kill 57 civilians, CNN

Al-Qaeda's Syrian branch merges with ISIS near border

25 June, 17:18

    Smoke rises from the the Baiji oil refinery in northern Iraq (archive) Smoke rises from the the Baiji oil refinery in northern Iraq (archive)

    (ANSAmed) - NEW YORK - At least 57 Iraqi civilians were killed and over 120 were injured in several air strikes carried out by the Syrian air force on Wednesday in parts of the Anbar province of Iraq. Jihadist militias have spread through the province in recent days, said local officials quoted by CNN. Syrian planes, said the head of the Anbar provincial council, Sabah Karkhout, hit markets and supply stations in the areas of Rutba, Al-Walid and Quaim. ''Unfortunately, (the) Syrian regime carried out barbarian attacks against civilians in Anbar province," he said, adding that an emergency meeting would be held in Ramadi to address the issue. Karkhout, reports CNN, said he was certain that the aircraft were Syrian as they bore the Syrian flag. ''Also,'' he said, ''the planes flew directly from Syrian airspace and went back to Syria.'' 

    After about a year of open rivalry, Al-Qaeda's official affiliate in Syria, Jabhat Al-Nusra, has merged with the jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). The joining of forces - at least temporarily - occurred in a town near the Syrian-Iraqi border, reports the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). The agreement was reached in Albukamal, a few kilometers from the Iraqi border crossing Al-Qaim, between Jabhat Al-Nusra (the Syrian militia that abides by Al-Qaeda's central authority under Ayman Zawahiri), and ISIS, which in recent months refused to submit to Zawahiri's authority.

    Both Jabhat Al-Nusra and ISIS espouse an Al-Qaeda brand of ideology, but for several months the two groups had been fighting each other, with the former repeatedly saying that the latter served the interests of the Syrian regime under Bashar Al-Assad. Local observers say that the Albukamal agreement seems of a tactical and temporary nature, and aims for the time being to bring together under one extremist banner the war front along the porous border against Iraqi and Syrian loyalist forces. They note that Nusra and ISIS continue to fight against each other in other parts of Syria.

    Iraqi Sunni insurgents backing Al-Qaeda forces are growing stronger by the day, with ever more weapons, money and fighters, and are more powerful than they have been for years, say US intelligence sources quoted by the Washington Post. The sources added that ISIS's military capacity had risen sharpy recently. The group also got hold of money deposited in banks in the Iraqi city Mosul after recently capturing it. The sources said that the amount of money was more likely to total ''in the millions of dollars and not hundreds of millions''. ISIS tops up its coffers through many other illicit activities, such as extortion and kidnappings. Money donated to them ''pales in comparison with their self-financing'', given ISIS's ruthlessness against local businesses, say the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. They added that the jihadist group has an estimated 10,000 fighters, from three to five thousand of whom are foreigners. (ANSAmed).

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