UK & World News

  • 12 June 2014, 2:56

Iraq: Tikrit Seized As Militants Surge South

Militants from an al Qaeda splinter group have launched a wave of attacks south of captured Mosul a day after more than 500,000 people fled the city.

Iraqi police said Sunni rebels from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) had seized control of Tikrit and freed hundreds of prisoners, AFP news agency reported.

Security sources cited by Reuters said the militants drove more than 60 vehicles into the city, occupying local government buildings and raising ISIS's black flag.

The city, which is the hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein, lies roughly halfway between the capital, Baghdad, and Mosul, which was taken on Tuesday.

Security sources said fighters drove into the town of Baiji in armed vehicles, setting fire to the court house and police station before freeing prisoners.

Local officials and residents said the militants later withdrew to surrounding villages after tribal leaders persuaded them not to take over the energy installations there.

A senior official from the Shia-led government said the production of crude oil in Iraq - which produces around 3.5 million barrels a day - could be affected after the attack on Baiji.

A series of suicide and car bombings across the country, including one in Baghdad, have killed more than 30 people.

Militants executed 10 soldiers and policemen near the town of Riyadh, 40 miles (60km) southwest of Kirkuk, after establishing a checkpoint, police sources said.

Security forces thwarted an assault on Samarra, which is just 70 miles (110km) north of Baghdad.

In Mosul, gunmen wearing military uniforms and black clothing have been guarding banks and government buildings and calling over loudspeakers for government employees to return to work.

The militants also seized the Turkish consulate in the second city and kidnapped the head of the diplomatic mission and 48 staff members, including family members and special forces.

The insurgents are also holding 31 Turkish truck drivers hostage at a power station there.

Turkey's foreign minister said Ankara will retaliate if any of its citizens are hurt.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has asked parliament to declare a state of emergency that would grant him additional powers to tackle the crisis.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Baghdad will co-operate with Kurdish forces to "flush out these foreign fighters" and said Iraq's leaders have to unite to face a "mortal" threat.

Influential Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr has called for the formation of militia units to help defend religious sites.

ISIS, which wants to create a Sunni Caliphate straddling the border between Iraq and Syria, has made serious gains in Iraq in the last year, seizing control of the city of Falluja and parts of Ramadi.

It was formed after a split with al Qaeda's international leader, Ayman al Zawahiri.