The capture of the Qaim border crossing deals a further blow to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, which has struggled to push back against Islamic extremists and allied militants who have seized large swaths of the country, including the second largest city Mosul, and who have vowed to march on Baghdad.
Police and army officials said the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and allied militants seized the crossing near the border town of Qaim, about 320 kilometres west of Baghdad, after battling Iraqi troops all day yesterday. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to media, said people were now crossing back and forth freely.
The fall of the border crossing came as al-Maliki faces mounting pressure to form an inclusive government or step aside, with both a top Shiite cleric and the White House strongly hinting he is in part to blame for the worst crisis since US troops withdrew from the country at the end of 2011.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most respected voice for Iraq's Shiite majority, yesterday joined calls for al-Maliki to reach out to the Kurdish and Sunni minorities a day after President Barack Obama challenged him to create a leadership representative of all Iraqis.