MOSUL - Militants overran Iraq’s second city of Mosul and the surrounding province of Nineveh on Tuesday, in a major blow to a government apparently incapable of stopping militant advances.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki responded by asking parliament to declare a state of emergency and announcing the government would arm citizens to fight the militants. “All of Nineveh province fell into the hands of militants,” parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi told journalists in Baghdad, adding the gunmen were heading south towards neighbouring Salaheddin province.
An army brigadier general told AFP hundreds of militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) launched a major assault on the security forces late on Monday. An interior ministry official said Mosul, the scene of deadly clashes on Friday and Saturday, was “outside the control of the state and at the mercy of the militants”.
Soldiers and police had stripped off their uniforms and fled, and the militants used loudspeakers to declare they had “come to liberate” the city of some two million people.
An AFP journalist, himself fleeing with his family, said shops were closed, a police station had been set ablaze and security forces vehicles had been burned or abandoned. Hundreds of families were seen fleeing. Some were on foot, carrying what they could, others in vehicles with their belongings piled on the roofs.
In the Kurdish north, another AFP journalist said thousands of Mosul residents had fled for the safety of the autonomous region.
Dozens of cars and trucks stretched out from one checkpoint on the boundary of the region, as people with plastic bags, suitcases and a pram waited to enter, some with young children in tow.
“The army forces threw away their weapons and changed their clothes and left their vehicles and left the city,” said Mahmud Nuri, a displaced Mosul resident. “We didn’t see anyone fire a shot”.
The assailants seized the provincial government headquarters and the Nineveh Operations Command as well as the airport, the army general said. They also freed hundreds of prisoners from three jails.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon expressed grave concern Tuesday about the jihadist takeover of Iraq’s second city of Mosul, calling on political leaders to unite in the face of threats.
His spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Ban was “gravely concerned by the serious deteriorating of the security situation in Mosul, where thousands of civilians have been displaced.” The UN chief “strongly condemns the terrorist attacks” across Iraq that have killed and wounded scores of civilians over the past several days and extends his condolences, he added.
“The secretary general urges all political leaders to show national unity against the threats facing Iraq, which can only be addressed on the basis of the constitution and within the democratic political process,” he said. Jihadists overran Mosul and the surrounding province of Nineveh on Tuesday, in a major blow to a government apparently incapable of stopping militant advances.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki responded by asking parliament to declare a state of emergency and announcing the government would arm citizens to fight the militants. Ban urged the Iraqi government and autonomous Kurdish authorities in the north to cooperate in restoring security in Nineveh province and in delivering urgently needed humanitarian aid. The United States on Tuesday condemned the seizure of the Iraqi city of Mosul by Sunni Islamist insurgents and said it supported “a strong, coordinated response to push back against this aggression,” offering assistance to the government of Iraq.
“The United States is deeply concerned about the events that have transpired in Mosul over the last 48 hours where elements of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIL) have taken over significant parts of the city. The situation remains extremely serious,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. Psaki added that senior US officials “support a strong, coordinated response to push back against this aggression.” She said: “The United States will provide all appropriate assistance to the Government of Iraq under the Strategic Framework Agreement (between the two nations) to help ensure that these efforts succeed.”
The Turkish consulate in Mosul said ISIL fighters had captured 28 Turkish truck drivers, while a foreign ministry official said Ankara hoped they would be released once they finished unloading fuel oil at a power station. Maliki said the cabinet had decided to arm citizens to fight the militants. It has “created a special crisis cell to follow up on the process of volunteering and equipping and arming”, he said in televised remarks.
Meanwhile, two bombs exploded near a funeral procession in the Iraqi city of Baquba on Tuesday, killing 20 people, police and a doctor said.
The blasts in the capital of Diyala province, 60 kilometres (37 miles) north of Baghdad, also wounded 28 people, the sources said.
Mourners were carrying the body of a teacher who was shot dead the previous night to a cemetery when the blasts occurred.
Militants frequently attack events and places where crowds of people gather, including funerals, weddings, mosques, markets and cafes, in an attempt to cause maximum casualties.
The Baquba blasts came as militants seized control the entire northern province of Nineveh, including its capital Mosul.
Militants have launched major operations in Nineveh, Anbar, Diyala, Salaheddin and Baghdad provinces since Thursday, killing scores of people and highlighting both their long reach and the weakness of Iraq’s security forces.