Multiple reports from Iraq say that Islamist militants have overrun the central city of Tikrit. It would be the second city to fall into insurgent hands in as many days.
Tikrit is 150 kilometers (95 miles) north of Baghdad, and the hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein.
The development comes after insurgents seized the Turkish consulate in the northern city of Mosulearlier on Wednesday, and kidnapped diplomatic staff.
Members of ISIS, a thriving breakaway Islamist militant group, took control of Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city, in a show of strength against Iraq’s Shiite-led government. Half a million people arereported to have fled Mosul.
Turkish media are reporting that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gathered officials for an emergency meeting to discuss the consulate seizure.
The group’s assault in Mosul saw black banner-waving insurgents raid government buildings, push out security forces and capture military vehicles. They also abducted more than two dozen Turkish truck drivers who were delivering diesel to a power plant in Mosul.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for the release of the diplomats.
“No such attack on diplomatic officers and civilians can be justified under any circumstances or under any reason,” Ban said.
The militants have also pushed on to the northern oil refinery town of Biji, with officials reporting the setting alight of its court building and police station overnight.
It’s believed insurgents had warned police and soldiers ahead of time not to challenge them as they approached Biji.
News agency Reuters reported that NATO ambassadors held an emergency meeting on Wednesday on the situation in Iraq, at Turkey’s request.
‘Plan to restore security’
Authorities back in Mosul are determined to recapture the city.
“Mosul is capable of getting back on its feet and getting rid of all the outsiders … and we have a plan to restore security,” said Atheel al-Nujaifi, the governor of Ninevah province, of which Mosul is the capital.
“We have taken practical steps in order to restore order … by mobilizing people into public committees that would retake the city.”
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the government in Baghdad would work with the semi-autonomous regional government of Kurdistan to defeat the Islamists. The Iraqi parliament was set to meet on Thursday to discuss a state of emergency that might give Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki greater powers in tackling the growing insurgency.
ISIS has controlled the city of Fallujah for the past five months and on Tuesday claimed control of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul. It has also taken advantage of the civil war in neighboring Syria to gain a foothold there, where it is seen by some as the most capable of those forces fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
The group is believed to be fighting to establish an Islamist emirate that would straddle Syria and Iraq.
jr/dr (Reuters, AFP)