Al-Qaeda-inspired militants on Wednesday seized the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, a day after Mosul, the country’s second largest city, fell under their control.
The sweeping advances of the extremist Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the rapid collapse of the Iraqi army, on which the United States spent at least $16 billion to build, has sent shockwaves across the region and internationally.
Militants took control of government buildings, financial institutions, weapon stockpiles, which could help them gain strength in their war against the rule of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
In Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein and the Salaheddin provincial capital, the militants seized a local prison and freed hundreds of prisoners. It lies roughly half way between Baghdad and Iraq’s second city Mosul which fell on Tuesday.
“All of Tikrit is in the hands of the militants,” a police colonel was quoted by AFP as saying.
A police brigadier general said that the militants attacked from the north, west and south of the city, and that they were from powerful jihadist group ISIS.
In Mosul, the militants on Wednesday seized 48 Turks from the Turkish consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, including the consul-general, three children and several members of Turkey’s Special Forces, a source in the Turkish prime minister’s office said.
The United States has said Jihadist militants in Iraq pose a threat to the entire region and voiced deep concern about the “serious situation.”
“It should be clear that ISIL is not only a threat to the stability of Iraq, but a threat to the entire region,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki has said, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) group.
Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed grave concern about the takeover of Mosul, calling on political leaders to unite in the face of threats.
His spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Ban was “gravely concerned by the serious deteriorating of the security situation in Mosul, where thousands of civilians have been displaced.”
Chris Doyle, the director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu), told the BBC on Wednesday that Iraq is no longer an uprising or a crisis, but a full scale war.
Doyle said alongside other crises in the region, Iraq needs to be addressed with urgency and seriousness by the international community that it has lacked so far.
“It is essential that the leading international powers work with regional partners to ensure that this full scale war does not intensify further. Events in Iraq are a product of an Iraqi, regional and international failure over many years,” Doyle added.
Nouzad Hadi, the governor of the Iraqi Kurdish city of Arbil, blamed Maliki’s government for the fall of Nineveh Province, including its capital city Mosul.
Hadi told the Dubai-based Hadath TV channel that the Iraqi military forces “are well-armed with the latest weaponry from the United States” but “that Maliki’s security policy has led to this failure.”
“This is a real tragedy,” Hadi said.
Commenting on Maliki’s policy towards the Sunnis in Iraq, Doyle said “there needs to be a political approach that is inclusive, one which does not alienate the Sunni community or other major constituencies.”
“This has been a considerable failure of the government of Nouri al-Maliki, that has taken sectarian politics to a new low. Any assistance given to Iraq must be based on an inclusive political situation without which there can be no military one.”
In October 2013, Maliki and before he arrived in Washington on an official visit, six influential U.S. senators sent a letter to President Barack Obama in which they accused Maliki of pursuing sectarian policies in Iraq and of marginalizing the Sunnis.
Democrats Carl Levin and Robert Menendez and Republicans John McCain, James Inhofe, Bob Corker and Lindsey Graham warned in the letter that “security conditions in Iraq have dramatically worsened over the past two years” and that “al-Qaeda in Iraq has returned with a vengeance.”
“Unfortunately, Prime Minister Maliki’s mismanagement of Iraqi politics is contributing to the recent surge of violence,” they said.