Al-Qaeda-inspired militants seized effective control Wednesday of Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, expanding their offensive closer to the Iraqi capital as soldiers and security forces abandoned their posts following clashes with the insurgents.
Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took control a day earlier of much of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in a major blow to the authority of the country’s Shia government. An estimated half a million residents fled the economically important city.
Residents reached by telephone in Sunni-dominated Tikrit said the Sunni militant group had taken over several police stations. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of their safety.
Two Iraqi security officials confirmed Tikrit was under the control of the ISIL, and said the provincial governor was missing. The officials insisted their names not be used because they weren’t authorized to release the information. Tikrit, the capital of Salahuddin province, is 130 kilometres north of Baghdad.
BAGHDAD: PM VOWS TO REGROUP AND FORCE MILITANTS OUT
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the massive security failure in Sunni-dominated Nineveh province that allowed militants to seize Mosul was the result of a “conspiracy,” and that those members of the security forces who fled rather than stand up to the militants should be punished.
He stopped short of assigning direct blame, however, choosing to focus instead on plans to fight back – without detailing the specifics. “Today, the important thing is that we are working to solve the situation,” a stern-faced al-Maliki said. “We are making preparations and we are regrouping the armed forces that are in charge of clearing Ninevah from those terrorists.”
BAIJI: MILITANTS PUSH INTO OIL-REFINERY TOWN
Security sources said ISIL militants drove into the town of Baiji late on Tuesday in armed vehicles, torching the court house and police station after freeing prisoners.
The militants offered safe passage to some 250 men guarding the refinery on the outskirts of Baiji, about 200 kilometers south of Mosul, on condition they leave.
Baiji resident Jasim al-Qaisi said the militants had also asked senior tribal chiefs in Baiji to persuade local police and soldiers not to resist their takeover. “Yesterday at sunset some gunmen contacted the most prominent tribal sheikhs in Baiji via cellphone and told them: ‘We are coming to die or control Baiji, so we advise you to ask your sons in the police and army to lay down their weapons and withdraw before [Tuesday] evening prayer.’ ”
The Baiji refinery can process 300,000 barrels per day and supplies oil products to most of Iraq’s provinces and is a major provider of power to Baghdad. A worker there said the morning shift had not been allowed to take over and the night shift was still on duty.
MOSUL: TURKS ABDUCTED BY MILITANTS
Militants from an al-Qaeda splinter group are holding 80 Turkish citizens seized in two separate incidents in Mosul, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.
The ministry said 49 of its citizens had been seized at its consulate-general and transferred to another part of the city, while 31 others – truck drivers who were abducted on Tuesday – were being held hostage at a power station in Mosul.
Turkey will retaliate if any of its citizens and diplomats are harmed, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said. “Right now we are engaged in calm crisis management, considering our citizens’ security. This should not be misunderstood. Any harm to our citizens and staff would be met with the harshest retaliation,” Davutoglu told reporters in New York in comments broadcast on Turkish television.
ATHENS: INSURGENCY A 'MORTAL THREAT,' MINISTER SAYS
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the fall of the major northern city to insurgents must push the country’s leaders to work together and deal with the “serious, mortal threat” facing Iraq.
Speaking on the sidelines of a diplomatic meeting in Athens, he said Iraqi troops and forces belonging to the Kurdish region’s government could work together to push the insurgents out. “We can push back on the terrorists … and there would be a closer co-operation between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government to work together and try to flush out these foreign fighters,” he said.
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