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Iraq crisis: Key developments

By Chelsea J. Carter, CNN
June 28, 2014 -- Updated 2157 GMT (0557 HKT)
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters assemble at a shrine on Iraq's Mount Sinjar on Friday, December 19. The Kurdish military said that with the help of coalition airstrikes, it has "cleansed" the area of ISIS militants. ISIS has been advancing in Iraq and Syria as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate in the region. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters assemble at a shrine on Iraq's Mount Sinjar on Friday, December 19. The Kurdish military said that with the help of coalition airstrikes, it has "cleansed" the area of ISIS militants. ISIS has been advancing in Iraq and Syria as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate in the region.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Russian fighter jets arrive in Iraq, defense ministry says
  • NEW: Iraqi warplanes target militants building a dam to block the Euphrates River
  • NEW: Tribal leaders sided with Iraqi forces after ISIS actions, official tells station

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- Both Islamist militants and the Iraqi military went on the offensive Saturday, trying to delivering crippling blows in a conflict that -- at least now -- doesn't appear anywhere close to a conclusion.

Below are some key developments from Iraq over the course of Saturday:

Iraq gets fighter jets from Russia

Five Russian Sukhoi fighter jets arrived Saturday in Iraq, the first of 25 warplanes expected to be delivered under a contract agreed to by Moscow and Baghdad, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement provided to CNN.

The announcement follows an interview given by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to British broadcaster BBC that ISIS advances may have been avoided if Iraq had proper air cover in the form of fighter jets that Iraq has been trying to secure from the United States for some time.

"I'll be frank and say that we were deluded when we signed the contract" with the United States, al-Maliki told the BBC in an interview this week that was released early Friday.

Iraq has now turned to Russia and Belarus to buy fighter jets, he said. "God willing, within one week, this force will be effective and will destroy the terrorists' dens," he said.

Al-Maliki's statements about the need for air support come as American and Arab diplomats tell CNN that the United States is unlikely to undertake any military strikes against ISIS and its allied fighters before a new government is formed in Iraq.

ISIS attacks military base

Militants believed to be ISIS fighters attacked an Iraqi military base south of Baghdad on Saturday, killing seven soldiers and wounding 29, security officials told CNN.

The ongoing battle began in the early morning hours at a military base in Jurf al-Sakhar, on the outskirts of Hilla, where an infantry brigade is based, they said.

Iraqi security forces have requested air and ground support, the officials say.

The attack at the base near Hilla, about 85 kilometers (about 52 miles) south of Baghdad, follows news earlier this week of an attack in the same area on an Iraqi convoy transporting prisoners.

Report: Shiite villages attacked, ransacked

ISIS fighters dynamited four Shiite place of worship and ransacked homes in two villages bordering the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Saturday.

Citing testimony from displaced villagers, the rights group said the attacks on the Shiite Turkmen villages of Guba and Shireekhan took place during a three-day rampage that began on June 23.

ISIS ordered 950 families from the villages, which sit about five kilometers outside of Mosul, to leave, according to nine displaced residents, two local activists and local journalists, according to the rights group.

At least 40 Shiite Turkmen were abducted by ISIS fighters, the villagers said, according to the group.

The displaced villagers claim those who stayed behind in Guba and Shireekhan, all Sunni, told them that ISIS had killed at least some of the abducted men, Human Rights Watch reported. However, none of villagers had seen bodies nor could they provide other information.

"The ISIS rampage is part of a long pattern of attack by armed Sunni extremists on Turkmen and other minorities," said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"The killing, bombing, and pillaging threatens to displace entire communities, possibly forever."

The villages were initially seized by ISIS on June 10, during their advance on Mosul.

Tal Afar attacks

Human Rights Watch also is reporting that ISIS destroyed seven Shiite places of worship June 25-26 in Tal Afar, 50 kilometers west of Mosul. The report did not say whether these were mosques.

The rights group estimates 90% percent of Tal Afar's ethnic minority Shiite Turkmen population has fled since ISIS seized.

Tal Afar was once a mixed city made up of Sunnis, Shiites and Turkmen. But most of its Sunni population fled during the height of the sectarian fighting during the Iraq War.

After ISIS attacked the city this month, most of its Shiite Turkmen population fled to the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

Iraqi air force strikes Mosul, Anbar province

The Iraqi air force carried out airstrikes on several ISIS locations within the city of Mosul on Saturday, a senior military official told CNN.

The airstrikes targeted four locations inside Iraq's second-largest city, including ISIS headquarters, said Mazen al-Safaar, a traffic director in Mosul.

The health administration building and old city's shopping district were hit, as well, according to Dr. Salaheldin al-Naimi, the director of the health administration.

At least seven civilians were killed and two wounded in the airstrikes, al-Naimi said.

Iraq's air force also carried out an airstrike targeting ISIS fighters building an earthen dam to block the Euphrates River in Anbar, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

Kurds tighten border controls

Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region on Saturday tightened restrictions on the border crossings used by Iraqis fleeing from extremist militants and airstrikes in the northern city of Mosul.

Renewed conflict in the city, located about 420 kilometers (260 miles) north of the capital, Baghdad, forced many more to flee -- but it is unclear what options they have left.

They were initially barred Saturday by the Kurdish fighting force -- known as the Peshmerga -- from entering the region through checkpoints.

But that was lifted later in the day.

The Peshmerga allowed families from Mosul to enter the Kurdish region, but only after undergoing security and background checks, two Kurdish security officials told CNN.

They also must have a sponsor who lives in the region, they said.

This move comes two days after a suicide car bomb struck a checkpoint manned by Kurdish forces in Kolchali, northeast of Mosul, according to Kurdish security forces in Erbil.

At least one Kurdish security officer was killed and 15 other people were wounded in that incident, security forces said.

Fight for Tikrit

State media and a local tribal leader reported Saturday that Iraqi forces had retaken the city of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown.

Sheikh Khamis al-Joubouri, a key tribal leader in Tikrit, told CNN that the Iraqi security forces entered the city supported by special forces and fighters from among the local tribes, and had gained control.

He said ISIS fighters retreated in the direction of Kirkuk and Nineveh provinces.

However, a combatant told a CNN freelance reporter that ISIS fighters remained in control of Tikrit even as there are fierce clashes in an area about 20 kilometers from the city center, toward Samarra.

State-run Iraqiya TV reported that the Iraqi army and volunteer militia groups had cleared ISIS fighters from the city, having advanced on the city from four directions.

Sabah Numan, a counterterrorism unit spokesman, told the station that 120 militants had been killed and 20 vehicles destroyed in a large-scale operation that began Saturday morning.

He did not provide any evidence of the claim, and CNN cannot independently confirm the reports.

Al-Joubouri said that the tribes were not aligned with the government or with ISIS and had stayed out of the fight until now.

But, he said, when ISIS fighters who arrived in Tikrit robbed banks and carried out executions -- not to mention brought the local economy to a standstill -- the tribal leaders offered their help to the Iraqi security forces positioned outside the city. The tribal leaders shared their knowledge of the city, including routes and known ISIS positions, he said.

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