Civilian children stand next to a burnt vehicle during
clashes between Iraqi security forces and al Qaeda-linked
Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the northern
Iraq city of Mosul. Photo by Reuters
An al-Qaeda splinter group in Iraq seized control of the
big northern city of Mosul, putting security forces to flight
in a spectacular show of strength against the Shi'ite-led
The capture of the city of some two million by the Islamic
State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Sunni Muslims waging
sectarian war on both sides of the nearby Iraqi-Syrian
border, adds to its grip on key western cities and followed
four days of heavy fighting in Mosul and surrounding Nineveh
The United States, which pulled out its troops two and a half
years ago, pledged to help Iraq leaders "push back against
this aggression" as the government of Prime Minister Nuri
al-Maliki asked parliament to declare a state of emergency.
But the battle, for the time being, seemed to be over, with
police discarding uniforms and weapons and fleeing a city
where the black flag of ISIL was flying over government
"We have lost Mosul this morning," said a colonel at a local
military command centre. "Army and police forces left their
positions and ISIL terrorists are in full control.
"It's a total collapse of the security forces."
A Reuters reporter saw the bodies of soldiers and policemen,
some mutilated, littering the streets.
"We can't beat them. We can't. They are well trained in
street fighting and we're not. We need a whole army to drive
them out of Mosul," one officer told Reuters. "They're like
ghosts: they appear, strike and disappear in seconds."
The fall of Mosul, a largely Sunni Arab city after years of
ethnic and sectarian fighting, deals a serious blow to
Baghdad's efforts to fight Sunni militants who have regained
ground and momentum in Iraq over the past year, taking
Falluja and parts of Ramadi, in the desert west of Baghdad at
the start of the year.
Control there, in Anbar province, as well as around Mosul in
the north, would help ISIL and its allies consolidate control
along the barely populated frontier with Syria, where they
are fighting President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Shi'ite
Thousands of families were fleeing north from Mosul, one of
the great historic cities of the Middle East, towards the
nearby Kurdistan region, where Iraq's ethnic Kurds enjoy
"Mosul now is like hell. It's in flames and death is
everywhere," said Amina Ibrahim, who was leaving with her
children. Her husband had been killed last year, in a
In a statement, the U.S. State Department said it was "deeply
concerned" and had senior officials in Baghdad and Washington
monitoring events in coordination with the Iraqi government,
Kurdish officials and other Iraqi figures. It said Washington
would "support a strong, coordinated response".
"The United States will provide all appropriate assistance to
the government of Iraq," it added, saying that its use of
arms and fighters from Syria showed "ISIL is not only a
threat to the stability of Iraq, but a threat to the entire
Police, military and security officials told Reuters the
insurgents, armed with anti-aircraft weapons and
rocket-propelled grenades, had taken over almost all police
and army checkpoints in and around the city early on Tuesday
Two army officers said security forces had received orders to
quit Mosul after militants captured the Ghizlani army base
and set more than 200 inmates free from a high-security
Two police sources and a local government official said the
militants had also broken into another jail called Badush,
allowing more than 1,000 prisoners to escape. Most of these,
they said, belonged to ISIL and al Qaeda. The army and police
set fire to fuel and ammunition depots as they retreated to
prevent the militants from using them, the officers said.
ISIL, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, broke with al Qaeda's
international leader, Osama bin Laden's former lieutenant
Ayman al-Zawahri, and has clashed with al Qaeda fighters in
ISIL posted photographs of its fighters wearing black
balaclavas on its "Nineveh State" Twitter account,
interspersed with verses from the Koran. The group dubbed the
Mosul offensive "Enter Upon Them Through The Gates".
In a newsletter, ISIL enjoined Sunnis to join them in the
fight against Maliki's "Safavid" army - a reference to the
Persian dynasty that promoted Shi'ite Islam.
"Join the ranks oh brothers!" ran one slogan. "Maliki's
tyrannical strength no match for pious believers."
Ibraheem al-Sumeide'i, a former adviser to Maliki who fell
out with him over policy, said the prime minister should make
way for a government of national unity: "The fall of Mosul
into the hands of ISIL means that ISIL has unified the Iraqi
and Syrian front and they have achieved their goal," he said.
Some Iraqi security sources estimate more than a thousand
mainly Shi'ite troops have been killed and many more deserted
from the army, as regular soldiers complain their leadership
has not provided them with the equipment and training.
Maliki's critics blame him for leading Iraq to ruin by
monopolising power and alienating the Sunni minority that
long dominated Iraq until U.S. forces overthrew Saddam
Hussein and oversaw elections that empowered the Shi'ite
"EVEN THE DEAD SUFFER"
Militants also control the Qayara district near Mosul, where
there is a military base and an airfield, security sources
In the neighbouring province of Salahaddin, they overran
three villages in the Shirqat district, torching police
stations, town halls and local council buildings before
raising ISIL's banner. Over loudspeakers, insurgents said
residents - and the police - would be safe if they remained
in their homes.
On Monday, provincial governor Atheel Nujaifi made a
televised plea to the people of Mosul to stand their ground
and fight. Hours later, Nujaifi himself narrowly escaped the
provincial headquarters in the city after militants besieged
Nujaifi's brother Osama, who is speaker of the parliament in
Baghdad, called on the Kurdish leadership to sent their
region's peshmerga forces to Mosul and wrest it back from
Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said his region
had tried to coordinate with Iraqi federal authorities to
protect Mosul, but Baghdad's stance had made it impossible.
Nearly 800 people were killed in violence across Iraq in May
- the highest monthly death toll so far this year. Last year
was the deadliest since the sectarian bloodletting of
At least 20 people were killed on Tuesday when two bombs
exploded at a cemetery in the city of Baquba about 50 km (30
miles) northeast of Baghdad, as mourners buried a university
professor shot dead the previous day, police and medics said.
"Mourners' bodies were flung among the graves by the force of
the blasts," said Muhsin Farhan, a relative of the professor.
"Even the dead are suffering in Iraq."