Calgary Herald

‘Islamic State’ seizes major Syrian oilfield


The extremist Sunni jihadist group that declared a caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq has seized control of one of Syria’s most important oilfields after fighters from other factions switched their allegiance to support it.

In a crucial strategic advance for Islamic State — formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — antigovern­ment rebels in Syria who had been loyal to the rival Jabhat al-Nusra switched sides and handed over the al-Omar oilfield, which has the potential to produce up to 75,000 barrels of oil per day.

The developmen­t represents a huge step up for the Islamic State in its struggle against al-Nusra, which is backed by al-Qaida but regards the new grouping as dangerousl­y extremist.

It means that the caliphate proclaimed by the Islamic State now controls a stretch of Syria from the town of Deir al-Zour in the middle of the country to Abukamel on the Iraqi border. Within neighbouri­ng Iraq, to the east, it holds the cities of Mosul and Tikrit, has free rein in Anbar province and is threatenin­g to attack Baghdad.

Saudi Arabia revealed Thursday that it had sent 30,000 troops to reinforce its long northern desert border with Iraq to defend the kingdom against the growing threat from jihadists including Islamic State. The al-Arabiya news channel, which is private but close to the Saudi government, said Riyadh had ordered the troops to the border after the Iraqi side appeared undefended.

The Islamic State’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a 43-year-old Iraqi, has set himself as a rival to al-Qaida’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, and has called on Muslims throughout the world to declare their loyalty. Antigovern­ment fighters in Iraq who joined the insurrecti­on last month were told last week that they must lay down their arms unless they joined Islamic State.

According to eyewitness accounts and social media postings Thursday, Islamic State reinforced its presence in the Syrian oilfield and surroundin­g area, arriving with U.S.-made arms and vehicles captured from fleeing army units in Iraq.

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