Iraqi Security Officials: Militants Seize Tikrit
by VOA News June 11, 2014
Islamist militants, advancing across parts of northern Iraqi, have seized the city of Tikrit and forced as many as 500,000 people to flee.
Iraqi security officials said the Sunni militants, who on Tuesday overran the city of Mosul, pushed southward on Wednesday, taking control of Iraq's biggest oil refinery and of Tikrit, fallen dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown. Tikrit is less than 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Baghdad and the nation's central government.
Security officials said the insurgents entered the town of Beiji late Tuesday, set fire to the police station and courthouse, and drove out some 250 men guarding the refinery. The insurgents reportedly offered the guards safe passage if they left peacefully.
Iraqi state television on Wednesday said the Iraqi Army's 4th brigade expelled the militants from Beiji hours later. Losing the refinery would represent a severe economic loss to Baghdad.
Turkish government sources said militants have seized the Turkish consulate in Mosul, kidnapping at least 48 people, including the Turkish consul, staff members, guards and three children. The militants already had abducted 31 other Turkish citizens, truck drivers who were being held at a Mosul power station.
The International Organization for Migration said Wednesday that fears of further violence in Mosul caused 500,000 people to flee their homes. It said those who were displaced moved across the city or fled to other parts of Ninevah province or the neighboring Kurdish province of Irbil.
Separately, at least 16 people were killed in a suicide bombing in Baghdad. The attack took place at a gathering in a tent in the Shi'ite neighborhood of Sadr City.
Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Wednesday that Iraq's leaders must unite to face what he called a 'serious, mortal threat' facing the country.
The militants' seizure of Iraqi cities and their swift advance southward constitute a stunning defeat for the country's Shi'ite-led government.
Hundreds of fleeing soldiers reportedly tore off their uniforms and fled their posts for the safety of nearby Kurdistan. One soldier told Iraq's al-Sharqiya TV that he had come 'face-to-face with vicious Pakistani fighters' and 'felt incapable of pushing them back.'
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki blasted Iraqi military officials who deserted their posts and fled Mosul, claiming in a speech Wednesday that they were part of a plot. He called on the residents of Mosul and volunteers to recapture the city and defeat the invaders, which he said threaten Iraq's entire political system.
Declaration of emergency sought
Al-Maliki, saying the country is 'undergoing a difficult stage,' asked parliament to call an urgent session to declare a state of emergency.
The parliament's speaker, Osama al-Nujaifi, characterized the militants' takeover of Mosul as 'a catastrophe by any measure' and described the scene there.
'When battles intensified inside the city of Mosul, the [Iraqi] forces abandoned their weapons and the commanders fled, leaving behind weapons, armored vehicles,' al-Nujaifi said. 'Their positions were easy prey for terrorists, even Mosul airport. Planes and command positions -- all of them have fallen, in addition to weapons caches. Also, prisons were stormed and criminals have been set free. What happened is a catastrophe by any measure.'
The attackers were armed with rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft weapons. Retreating Iraqi troops set fire to fuel and ammunition depots to keep the insurgents from using them.
Al-Qaida group defies control
The takeover of Mosul was the latest blow against the Iraqi government's attempt to control the growing insurgency by an offshoot al-Qaida group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Earlier this year, the group took over another Iraqi city, Fallujah, and government forces have been unable to reclaim it after months of fighting.
To the west of Mosul, the militants have seized control of parts of eastern Syria in their fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The insurgents are seeking to establish an Islamic state with the regions they control in eastern Syria and western Iraq.
Iraq is dealing with its worst violence since 2008, with the United Nations reporting that approximately 4,500 people have been killed this year. More than 900 of the deaths occurred last month.
VOA News' Edward Yeranian contributed to this report from Cairo, Egypt.
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