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10 Jun, 2014 09:29

State of emergency: ISIS militants overrun Iraq city of 1.8mn, free 2,500 prisoners

Heavily-armed militants formerly affiliated with Al-Qaeda have seized the Iraqi city of Mosul, driving back government forces. Officials say the Iraqi Army’s soldiers are demoralized and are no match for the attacking militant forces.

“The city of Mosul is outside the control of the state and at the mercy of the militants,” an Interior Ministry official told AFP on Monday. It is now the second city to fall under control of Islamist fighters since the beginning of this year. In January militants seized the city of Fallujah, displacing over 70,000 people.

On Monday night, fighters from Al-Qaeda splinter group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) stormed provincial government headquarters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns.

#Iraq: #ISIS controlled the main municipality building and burned down the main police station in #Mosul. 7/

— Elijah J Magnier (@EjmAlrai) June 10, 2014

The city’s governor, Atheel Nujaifi, was caught inside the building at the time of the attack, but managed to escape, while local police battled to fend off the militants. Earlier that day Nujaifi appealed to the inhabitants of Mosul, largely a Sunni Arab city, to fight the invaders.

"I call on the men of Mosul to stand firm in their areas and defend them against the outsiders, and to form popular committees through the provincial council,"
said Nujaifi in a statement.

Iraqi military, police, and security officials told Reuters that armed militants with anti-aircraft weaponry and rocket-propelled grenades had captured nearly all police and military checkpoints in and around Mosul by early Tuesday.

Unnamed officials told Reuters that government fighters were demoralized and seriously outmatched by the militant forces.

"We have lost Mosul this morning," said a colonel at a local military command base, according to Reuters. "Army and police forces left their positions and ISIL terrorists are in full control."

"It's a total collapse of the security forces."

Eyewitness accounts describe the scenes of chaos on the streets of Iraq’s second-largest city as thousands of people fled for their lives. A number of reports say that militants are freeing detainees from police stations, while AL RAI Chief International Correspondent Elijah J Magnier tweeted that the ISIS had freed over 2,000 inmates from a “counter terrorism prison.”

#Iraq#ISIS freed 1150 other prisoner from "Counter Terrorism Prison" in #Mosul. Total confirmed so far 2590 prisoners (criminals $ #ISIS)

— Elijah J Magnier (@EjmAlrai) June 10, 2014

“The situation is chaotic inside the city and there is nobody to help us,” a Christian mother of two told AP. “We are afraid ... There is no police or army in Mosul.”

"Mosul now is like hell. It's in flames and death is everywhere," said Amina Ibrahim, who was fleeing the city with her children.

In response to the escalation, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called on parliament to declare a state of emergency.

Calling on citizens to take up arms “to defend the homeland and defeat terrorism,” al-Maliki said in a statement broadcast on state TV that the cabinet has “created a special crisis cell to follow up on the process of volunteering and equipping and arming.”

Maliki announces on state TV #Iraq will be arming civilian volunteers in fight against #ISIS.

— Lucy Kafanov (@LucyKafanov) June 10, 2014

Hours after the televised statement, ISIS jihadists seized several more areas in Iraq’s Kirkuk province, according to AFP. Militants overran the Hawijah, Zab, Riyadh, and Abbasi areas west of the city of Kirkuk, and Rashad and Yankaja to its south, a police officer told the agency.

Bombing units destroy Safavids towers and checkpoints #Iraq#ISIS#ISILpic.twitter.com/TOWHA07NMz

— ISIS NEWS (@isisnews3) June 10, 2014

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is “gravely concerned” about the situation in Mosul, according to Ban’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.

“The Secretary-General urges all political leaders to show national unity against the threats facing Iraq, which can only be addressed on the basis of the Constitution and within the democratic political process,”
Dujarric said, adding that the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq “stands ready to support these efforts.”

@ShamiWitness: Crazy amount of heavy weaponry captured in Ninawa pic.twitter.com/chuic1FkGW#Iraq#ISIS #ir306worldpolitics

— Mehmet Ali Tuğtan (@MehmetAliTugtan) June 10, 2014

The US State Department has also issued a statement saying it is deeply concerned about the “extremely serious” situation in northern Iraq.

US officials “support a strong, coordinated response to push back against this aggression,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement, adding that Washington will “provide all appropriate assistance to the Government of Iraq under the Strategic Framework Agreement to help ensure that these efforts succeed.”

According to Psaki, the US government realizes that the radical Islamist group “continues to gain strength from the situation in Syria, from which it transfers recruits, sophisticated munitions, and resources to the fight in Iraq.” Calling ISIS “a threat to the entire region,” the spokeswoman called on different Iraqi communities “to work together to confront this common enemy and isolate these militant groups from the broader population.”

The US is in the process of providing Iraq more weaponry, including Hellfire missiles and surveillance drones. Last week, Iraq received the first of 36 F-16 fighter jets it has ordered from weapons maker Lockheed Martin.

Iraq's Prime Minister has been struggling to control the recent outbreak of sectarian violence in the country. Al-Maliki is a Shiite Muslim and has become unpopular with Iraq Sunni minority, which has accused the government of discrimination. Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan, laid the blame for the siege at the feet of the Iraqi central government in a statement on Tuesday. He claimed they had been warned that ISIS forces were converging on Mosul, but failed to take any action.