Amid reports that Saudi Arabia has deployed some 30,000 troops to its border with Iraq, President Obama has called King Abdullah to discuss the developments in the region.
Reuters quotes the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television as saying the kingdom has deployed forces to its border after Iraqi troops abandoned their positions amid a Sunni-led insurgency.
According to Reuters:
“The Dubai-based al-Arabiya said on its website that Saudi troops had fanned out into the border region after Iraqi government forces withdrew from their positions, leaving the Saudi and Syrian frontiers exposed.
“It aired a video which, it said, showed some 2,500 Iraqi soldiers in the desert region east of the Iraqi city of Kerbala after pulling back from the border, which is reinforced on the Saudi side by a system of fences.
“However, the Iraqi prime minister’s military spokesman, Lieutenant General Qassim Atta, told reporters in Baghdad: ‘This is false news aimed at affecting the morale of our people and the morale of our heroic fighters.'”
NPR’s Alice Fordham, reporting from Baghdad, says that Obama and Abdullah discussed the threat posed to the region by Sunni extremists trying to take over Iraq and Syria and set up an Islamic state there.
“Some Iraqis blame Saudi [Arabia], which is itself a Sunni nation governed primarily by Islamic law, for supporting the insurgents and undermining the Shiite prime minister Nouri al Maliki,” Fordham says. “But Saudi, a key ally of the US, insists its concerns about terrorism are real.”
The Associated Press quotes the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as saying fighters from the self-proclaimed ‘Islamic State,’ the extremist group that controls parts of Iraq and Syria, have taken control of Syria’s largest oil field, near the border with Iraq.
The group reportedly “captured al-Omar oil field in eastern Deir el-Zour province on Thursday after fighters belonging to a rival group, the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, left without firing a bullet,” the AP says.
The moves come as the president of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq has reportedly called for a referendum on independence.
The Guardian quotes a member of parliament from the Kurdistan Democratic party (KDP) as saying that President Massoud Barzani has asked that a committee be formed to organize the vote.
Earlier this week, Barzani told the BBC tghat a referendum as “a question of months” away.
“‘The president asked us to form an independent electoral commission to carry out a referendum in the Kurdistan region and determine the way forward,’ the MP, Farhad Sofi, told the British broadcaster.
“In his interview with the BBC, Barzani said the lightning advance of Sunni militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) through the west of the country with the Shia prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, left in control of Baghdad and the south, had reaffirmed the Kurdish goal of full independence.
“‘Iraq is effectively partitioned now; should we stay in this tragic situation that Iraq is living? Of course, we are all with our Arab and Sunni brothers together in this crisis, but that doesn’t mean that we will abandon our goal,”‘ he said.”