Zee Media Bureau/Supriya Jha
Baghdad: Danger is looming large on Iraq`s capital town as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) fighters on Tuesday pushed hard to take control of Baquba, just 60 km from Baghdad, attacking a jail there, killing 44 Shia prisoners.
Reports said that though Sunni militants were fighting hard to take Baquba, Iraqi military said the city was still in its control.
The Sunni militants earlier took control of various part of central city of Baquba yesterday overnight and captured a major police station and seized weapons.
Meanwhile, Iraq has shut down its biggest oil refinery in Baiji fearing severe destruction in case militants fired at the refinery. The authorities have also evacuated the foreign employees at the refinery, however the local staff remain in place and the military is still in control of the facility.
Earlier reports said that Sunni ISIS fighters had entered the town of Baiji and surrounded the refinery.
The recent crisis has sparked concerns across the globe with the US calling as horrible the online execution photos posted by the militants, while the United Nations said ISIS rebels had almost certainly committed war crimes by executing hundreds of non-combatant men in Iraq over the past five days.
The UN envoy to Baghdad Nickolay Mladenov has called the insurgency as "life-threatening" for Iraq, warning that Iraq`s sovereignty is at stake.
"Right now, it`s life-threatening for Iraq but it poses a serious danger to the region," Mladenov told AFP.
"Iraq faces the biggest threat to its sovereignty and territorial integrity" in years, he added.
The ISIS militants who took over Mosul and Tikrit last week were seen advancing with a lighting speed as they approach Baghdad. In the beginning Iraqi troops fled Mosul, discarding weapons and uniforms, but Iraqi security forces took time and gained ground and on Sunday claimed to have halted the Sunni rebels` advance by taking back many cities.
Iraqi troops claimed to have killed over 279 Sunni fighters belonging to the ISIS, and said that they were building up in town of Samarra to launch a counter-offensive on militants.
Several civilians too have taken up arms against the ISIS on the call of Grand Shiite cleric Ayatollah al-Sistani, who urged people to defend Baghdad.
If rebels manage to take control of Baquba - capital of Diyala province- which is just 37 miles away from Baghdad, then the capital city faces an open risk of falling in the jaws of danger as Sunni militants will have an easy access to Baghdad after having captured Baquba.
However, the capital city has turned into a fortress with forces along with thousands of civilians taking up arms to save their town.
Thousand of Iraqis responded to Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki`s announcement regarding arming the volunteers and even children and old people were seen brandidhing rifles on streets of baghdad.
Meanwhile, the US has decided to send hundreds of non-combatant armed troops to Iraq – mainly to protect the embassy staff there and assist in their relocation. But the US may also send a special contingent of special forces to train Iraqi troops, aid reports.
According to a Reuters report, the US has urged Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to embrace Sunni politicians if Iraq wants American support against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) advance toward Baghdad.
However, Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki has chosen to refuse the US suggestion and decided to boycott Sunni politicians calling them "traitors".
Also, Maliki has accused Sunni power Saudi Arabia of fomenting militancy in Iraq by funding the Sunni terror groups.
In a statement by Iraqi PMO, Maliki said, "We hold them responsible for supporting these groups financially and morally, and for the outcome of that - which includes crimes that may qualify as genocide: the spilling of Iraqi blood, the destruction of Iraqi state institutions and historic and religious sites".
Maliki`s remarks against Saudi came after the Sunni regime earlier blamed PM Maliki`s "sectarian and exclusionary policies" for fuelling the insurgency.
The US` expected teaming up with Iran to fight ISIS in Iraq, has also not gone down well with Saudi, which has rejected foreign interference in Iraq.