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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Tuesday, February 20, 2018

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Iraqi city of Tal Afar taken by Sunni militants

The militants had captured key cities including Mosul and Tikrit

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BAGHDAD Al Qaeda-inspired militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) captured the city of Tal Afar, near the Syrian border, as the Sunni militants and allied rebels advanced towards the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Monday.

Worried over the developments, the US said it would be open to cooperating with Iran on the issue.

The capture of Tal Afar, a strategic city along the highway to Syria, takes the ISIS militants closer to their goal of linking areas under their control on both sides of the border.

The militants had captured key cities including Mosul and Tikrit last week, but some towns were retaken.

Tal Afar is dominated by ethnic Turkomen, who are both Sunni and Shiite, and is a key prize for the insurgents as it sits 150km from the Syrian border. The Al-Qaeda breakaway group leading the push in Iraq also is fighting in the civil war next door in Syria where it controls territory abutting the Iraqi border, says AP.

The capture of the city came as the Islamist militants boasted of slaughtering dozens of Iraqi soldiers captured in the fighting. Pictures posted on a militant website appear to show masked fighters of the ISIS forcing captives to lie down in a shallow ditch.

Subsequent photos appear to show the bodies of the men soaked in blood after being shot. 'This is the fate of the Shiites which Nuri (al-Maliki, Iraq's president) brought to fight the Sunnis,' a caption to one of the pictures reads.

The horrifying images could further heighten sectarian tensions in Iraq where hundreds of Shiites responded to a call by Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for Iraqis to defend their country.

Hundreds of families fled Tal Afar in the northern province of Ninawa after clashes between militants and security forces backed by Turkmen tribal fighters on Sunday

The developments come as US Secretary of State John Kerry said he would be open to cooperating with Iran on Iraq, and warned that drone strikes were an option to halt a militant assault.

"I wouldn't rule out anything that would be constructive," Kerry said in an interview with Yahoo when asked if the US would cooperate militarily with Iran, a key ally of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Kerry also said that US President Barack Obama was carrying out "a very thorough vetting of every option that is available," including drone strikes. Kerry also said that US drone strikes "may well" be an option.

The commander of Iran's elite Quds Force, Gen. Ghasem Soleimani, is in Iraq holding consultations with officials on how to push back the ISIS militants. The US government was notified in advance of Soleimani's visit.

The officials also said that US aircraft have in recent days flown reconnaissance missions over Iraq to gather intelligence on the militants' positions.

Soleimani has been inspecting Iraqi defenses and reviewing plans with top commanders and Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militias, the officials said, according to AP.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said the "apparently systematic series of executions [of non-combatants] almost certainly amounted to war crimes"> BNN

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