Iraq's prime minister has asked parliament to declare a state of emergency after Islamist militants effectively took control of Mosul, the country's second-largest city, and much of its province of Nineveh June 9, in another blow to the authorities, who appear incapable of stopping rebel advances, Agence France-Presse reported.
Nouri Maliki said "vital areas" of the city had been seized; some 150,000 people are believed to have fled. A police chief who spoke to AFP told The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) partly took control of the Salahaddin province and some areas in the city of Kirkuk.
Overnight, hundreds of gunmen launched an assault on Mosul, 350 kilometres north of Baghdad, engaging in combat with troops and police, they said.
The ISIL has also reportedly taken 28 Turkish truck drivers hostage. The drivers had been travelling from the southern Turkish city of İskenderun to the Geyara Thermal Power Plant in Mosul, Doğan News Agency reported.
A senior Turkish official told Reuters that Turkey is investigating media reports. "These truck drivers were taking fuel to an energy storage and distribution hub. When they arrived, ISIL (militants) were already there," the official told Reuters, adding that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was in contact with Iraqi, Kurdish and U.S. officials to try to ensure their safe release. "They were detained (by the militants), they haven't been hijacked ... They're unharmed as far as we're aware. When they've finished transferring the fuel we're hoping that they will be freed," another Turkish official said.
Foreign Ministry officials told the Daily News that contact had been lost with 28 drivers in Iraq. They said they could not yet ascertain whether the drivers had been abducted by ISIL militants or were simply stuck somewhere in the region, and were still working to find more details.
The phone lines of the Turkish Consulate in Mosul have been cut, though Ankara can still communicate with Consul Öztürk Yılmaz through his cellphone, Hürriyet's Uğur Ergan has reported. Yılmaz recently survived a bomb attack while traveling to the northern city of Arbil.
Entire region threatened, US says
The US has said the ISIL threatens not just Iraq, but the entire region. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the situation in Mosul was "extremely serious" and that the US supported "a strong, co-ordinated response to push back against this aggression".
Before the entire city fell, militants took control of the governor's headquarters, prisons and television stations. "The city of Mosul is outside the control of the state and at the mercy of the militants," an interior ministry official told AFP, making it the second city to fall to anti-government forces this year.
An AFP journalist, himself fleeing the city, said shops were closed, security forces had abandoned vehicles and a police station had been set ablaze.
Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has called on the people of the Kurdish region to help the displaced people of Mosul, while accusing the central government of not cooperating with the KRG against militants.
Kurdish leaders offers help
"Over the last two days, we tried extremely hard to establish cooperation with the Iraqi Security Forces in order to protect the city of Mosul. Tragically, Baghdad adopted a position which has prevented the establishment of this cooperation," Barzani said in a written statement.
"In order to assist and support the displaced people of the city of Mosul, including all of the city's different ethnic groups, I ask the people of the Kurdistan region to help the displaced people of Mosul in whatever way they can within the framework of legal and security guidelines. I also urge the United Nations High Commission for Refugees [UNHCR] to provide relief and support for the displaced people fleeing the violence in Mosul," he added.
"In the meantime, we reassure the people living in the areas of Kurdistan outside of KRG administration that the Kurdish Security Forces are ready, as always, to handle the security situation in these areas."
Mosul is the capital of Nineveh province. In recent days, militants have launched major operations in Nineveh and four other provinces, killing scores of people and highlighting both their long reach and the weakness of Iraq's security forces.
Mosul is the second city to fall to militants this year, after the government lost control of Fallujah, just a short drive from Baghdad, in early January.