Capture of bridge linking Haditha to besieged city of Baghdadi leaves 20 Iraqi soldiers dead, reports say.

The fight for al-Baghdadi has led to an exodus of residents from Anbar to the capital Baghdad [Reuters]
The fight for al-Baghdadi has led to an exodus of residents from Anbar to the capital Baghdad [Reuters]

Reports say fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group have seized a strategic bridge between the cities of Baghdadi and Haditha in the western Anbar province, killing more than 20 Iraqi soldiers.

Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf, reporting from Baghdad on Thursday, said the “major development is an indication that there is very fierce fighting ongoing in Anbar.

This was ISIL taking a bridge across the Euphrates between the small city of Baghdadi and the larger city of Haditha”.

Baghdadi, whose siege by ISIL has trapped residents, is not far from Ayn al-Asad airbase, which houses American forces and their coalition partners.

It is the second largest US military airbase in Iraq.

Earlier on Thursday, ISIL sent a military vehicle with suicide bombers to try to get to one of the gates and detonate the explosives, our correspondent said.

“While the truck did not reach the gate, it did come to a few kilometres of one of the main gates of that base where they were repulsed by Iraqi forces,” she said.

Release reported

In another development, ISIL has released 30 men it had captured near Tikrit, according to Anwar Assi al-Obeidi, an influential local sheikh.

ISIL fighters reportedly captured 118 men and nine boys on Sunday from Rubaidha village, east of Tikrit, and then released 21 of the men – leaving 97 men and nine boys still in captivity.

Most of those captured have relatives fighting against ISIL, Obeidi told Al Jazeera on Thursday, adding that 600 members of his al-Obeid tribe have been killed by ISIL fighters since June.

ISIL releases men captured near Tikrit

A new UN report released this week documents widespread human rights violations committed by ISIL in Iraq between September and December last year.

“Members of Iraq’s diverse ethnic and religious communities, including Turkmen, Shabaks, Christians, Yazidi, Sabaeans, Kakae, Faili Kurds, Arab Shia and others have been intentionally and systematically targeted by ISIL and associated armed groups and subjected to gross human rights abuses,” the report says.

Meanwhile, the number of Christians abducted by ISIL in neighbouring Syria has risen to 220 in the past three days, as the group rounded up more hostages from a chain of villages along a strategic river, activists said on Thursday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighters picked up dozens more Christian Assyrians from 11 communities near the town of Tal Tamr in the northeastern Hassakeh province.

The province, which borders Turkey and Iraq, has become the latest battleground in the fight against ISIL in Syria.

It is predominantly Kurdish but also has populations of Arabs and predominantly Christian Assyrians and Armenians.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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The rise and fall of ISIL

A chronology of ISIL’s quick territorial victories and defeats in Iraq and Syria.

When the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant first started taking territory, the media didn’t take much notice. The city of Fallujah had already fallen to ISIL fighters when, in June, its men stormed the University of Anbar in Ramadi. Still, little attention. But when Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city, fell the same month the world started to watch the country again. ISIL, also active in Syria, now seemed both a threat to the region and a group with the wind behind its back. Since then, there have been hundreds of battles, gruesome killings that have shocked the world, and a US-led campaign of air strikes. Kurdish fighters have pushed the group out of some towns and villages. And what many once saw as an invincibility on the battlefield, is starting to look shaky.

Here, we recall some of the key events for ISIL from that assault on Ramadi until now.

Source: Al Jazeera

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