Iraq forces begin clearing ‘terrorists’

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki says Iraqi security forces have begun clearing cities of “terrorists,” after militants seized swathes of territory and brought the military to the brink of collapse.

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Security forces “began their work to clear all our dear cities from these terrorists,” Maliki said in a statement on Friday, without giving details of where or when operations had started.

Maliki travelled to the embattled city of Samarra on Friday, areas of which militants took last week and sought to advance into again on Wednesday.

Militants were gathering for another assault on Samarra, located 110km north of Baghdad, witnesses said.

The city houses the revered Shiite Al-Askari shrine, which was bombed by militants in 2006, sparking a sectarian war between Shiites and Sunnis that killed tens of thousands.

A major militant offensive, spearheaded by powerful jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, has overrun all of one province and chunks of three more since Monday.

Security forces have so far failed to halt the push, with some abandoning their vehicles and positions and discarding their uniforms.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari likened the recent performance of Iraqi security forces to the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s army in 2003 in an interview published on Friday.

“It is the same collapse that happened in the ranks of the Iraqi armed forces when American forces entered Iraq,” Hoshyar Zebari told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.

They “took off military uniforms and put on civilian clothes and went to their houses, leaving weapons and equipment”, he said.