Along Iraq-Syria Border, Two Key Crossings Fall To Insurgents
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Along Iraq's long border to the west with Syria, ISIS fighters have seized control of two key crossings between the two countries. Al Qaim and Al Waleed are now in the insurgents' and hands. Joining me to talk about what that means is Ned Parker, the Baghdad bureau chief for Reuters. And Ned, the first to go was Al Qaim followed very quickly by Al Waleed. Did the Iraqi army put up a fight there?
NED PARKER: I believe the Iraqi army - they did put up a fight by Al Qaim over several days but eventually they were overpowered. I do think it was a combination of fighters on the Iraqi side of the border and fighters from the Syrian side, which just shows the power of ISIL as it tries to erase the frontiers that have existed since the 1930s between Iraq and Syria.
BLOCK: ISIL, another name for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS - and the goal reflected in that name, to establish a caliphate that spans those two countries - Iraq and Syria. What does control of the border allow ISIS to do?
PARKER: It basically allows them to fortify their gains. Their ambition is to create the state or emirate across what we consider Iraq and Syria, and what they see as holy land which they want to create their Islamic caliphate. So they can take the gains they get from Iraq - weapons, vehicles they get from the Iraqi army and weapons taken in Syria to use in Iraq - and also as a propaganda tool to bring fighters who come into Syria - bring them to Iraq and to really push and create another front against the Iraqi government. So not only are they fighting from the north to protect Baghdad, but they have to even think more seriously about the fighting from the west - from Anbar.
BLOCK: If you look at the stretch of border between Iraq and Syria, it's about 375 miles long. Does ISIS now control the whole thing?
PARKER: Well, it depends who you talk to. Tonight, the Iraqi government said it had retaken Waleed, but there's no way to confirm that. And the situation is so fluid, and Iraqi forces out in western Anbar have really been under so much stress, it's hard to know what's true. But if they haven't taken it back yet, then no border along the Syrian frontier is under the Iraqi government's control. A final border post is under the control of Kurdish separatists inside Syria.
BLOCK: On the Syrian side of the border, where ISIS has also seized territory, the Syrian military responded with airstrikes on those areas. Does that complicate the task for ISIS? In other words, if they have resistance on the Syrian side, the supply lines and all that back-and-forth becomes much harder.
PARKER: Sure, it definitely does. And what the Syrian interests are - they ebb and flow at times. According to former U.S. officials there's been coordination even between the Syrian government and Islamic militants in Syria, at least in terms of having a live-and-let-live arrangement. But, yes, it would make things harder for groups like ISIS. You would think there would be coordination between the Iraqi and Syrian governments as they have been coordinating for well over a year now in fighting ISIS in Syria, and they've been working in tandem with Iran which is an ally to both countries. So this should shrink - or could shrink and put pressure upon the ability of ISIS to move across borders and carve out and bolster its ambition of creating this emirate.
BLOCK: There's one border that I want to mention with you and that's Iraq's border with Jordan. And ISIS, apparently, is now in control of a crossing there, too, in Trebil. If you look at the big picture as ISIS solidifies its hold along the western edge of the country, what do you see? What is the big picture?
PARKER: Well, the Trebil crossing- it's still, I would say, a fluid situation. But in the big picture, if the Trebil border crossing is now in ISIS's hand, this is also very destabilizing for Jordan where there are definitely many Islamic militants there -people who've gone to fight in the wars - the sectarian wars of the last few years. So this vision of ISIS outposts across Iraq, Syria and on the border of Jordan is clearly upsetting for the idea of regional stability.
BLOCK: That's Ned Parker, Baghdad bureau chief for Reuters. Ned, thanks so much.
PARKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.