12 June 2014
Last updated at 05:53
The UN Security Council has condemned attacks by Islamist militants in two major Iraqi cities, Mosul and Tikrit.
It said the humanitarian situation around Mosul, where up to 500,000 people have fled, was “dire and is worsening by the moment”.
The US says it is considering further assistance to Iraq to help combat insurgents belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
However, the State Department has declined to say what this might entail.
The militants are consolidating positions in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, which they took on Tuesday, a day after capturing Mosul, Iraq’s second city.
ISIS, which is also known as ISIL, is an offshoot of al-Qaeda. It controls a large swathe of territory in eastern Syria and western and central Iraq, in a campaign to set up a Sunni militant enclave straddling the border.
In a statement, the UN Security Council said it “deplored in the strongest terms the recent events in the city of Mosul” and expressed concern for the hundreds of thousands who have since fled their homes..
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on “the international community to unite in showing solidarity with Iraq as it confronts this serious security challenge”.
Security vehicles were destroyed in Mosul
ISIS fighters with an army vehicle in Tikrit
A propaganda video shows ISIS fighters recently in Nineveh province
Earlier, Unicef’s Iraq representative, Marzio Babille, said the situation in Mosul was “dire and is worsening by the moment”.
The ISIS fighters swept south from Mosul through Baiji, before moving into Tikrit.
Baiji hosts the nation’s largest oil refinery but that appears to still be in government hands.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that Washington was committed “to working with the Iraqi government and leaders across Iraq to support a unified approach against ISIL’s continued aggression”.
Iraq has been seeking American drones to root out the insurgents, a request that has so far been rebuffed by the Obama administration, the New York Times reports.
Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki has vowed to fight back against the insurgents and said that he would punish troops who fled offering little or no resistance.
ISIS in Iraq
- The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has 3,000 to 5,000 fighters, and grew out of an al-Qaeda-linked organisation in Iraq
- ISIS has exploited the standoff between the Iraqi government and the minority Sunni Arab community, which complains that Shia PM Nouri Maliki is monopolising power
- It has already taken over Ramadi and Falluja, but taking over Mosul is a far greater feat than anything the movement has achieved so far, and will send shockwaves throughout the region
- The organisation is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – an obscure figure regarded as a battlefield commander and tactician. He was once the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, one of the groups that later became ISIS.
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How did Iraqi militants take over Mosul?
In pictures: Iraq cities attacked
One police captain there told Reuters: “Our forces were caught by surprise, they never expected ISIL would use police and army Humvee vehicles, we mistook them for government forces and it was too late to stop them.
“We are fighting devils and not ordinary people”.
A number of militants also reached the outskirts of Samarra, just 110km (68 miles) north of Baghdad.
However, the government responded with air strikes and the militants were stopped from entering the city.
Security was tight on the border into the Kurdish autonomous region
ISIS said on Twitter it would “not stop this series of blessed invasions”.
The UN Security Council also “denounced the taking of hostages at the Turkish Consulate” in Mosul.
Almost 50 Turks, including the head of the mission in Mosul, are being held by the militants, with Turkey’s foreign minister warning there would be “harsh retaliation” if any of its citizens were harmed.
US Vice President Joe Biden has offered Turkey support in its efforts to secure the release of its citizens.
Militants are reportedly travelling around Mosul telling citizens they are not in danger – even the Shia residents.
One man who fled with his family told Reuters: “They told us not to be scared and that they came to liberate and free us from oppression. We are frightened because we don’t know who they are.”
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Iraq faced a “serious, mortal threat” and urged more cooperation between Baghdad and the Kurdistan regional government to combat the insurgents.
Mr Maliki has asked Iraq’s parliament to declare a state of emergency.
In a live TV address, he said an unspecified “conspiracy” had taken place in Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province, causing security personnel to flee.
He said: “Those who deserted and did not carry out their jobs properly should be punished.”
Mr Maliki told the people of Nineveh: “Do not give in. We are with you. Even if the battle is a long one, we will not let you down.”
ISIS has been informally controlling much of Nineveh for months, and in the past week has attacked other areas of western and northern Iraq, killing scores.
The Iraqi government is struggling with a surge in sectarian violence that killed almost 800 people, including 603 civilians, in May alone.
Are you in the area? Are you from Mosul or Tikrit? Have you been affected by the situation? You can email [email protected] using ‘Mosul’ in the subject.
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