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Militants push on from Mosul

June 11, 2014

Members of a thriving breakaway Islamist group that took control of Iraq's second biggest city have pushed on to the town of Biji. Half a million people are reported to have left Mosul, which was taken on Tuesday.

Image: Reuters

Militants tightened their control over the northern oil refinery town of Biji, setting security headquarters in the town on fire, Iraqi officials said on Wednesday.

"Insurgents from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have deployed overnight in Biji and torched the court building and police station in the center of the city," an unnamed official told the independent television station Alsumaria News. "They have also seized weapons of military troops."

Jasmin al-Qaisi, a resident of the town - which lies some 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Mosul - told the Reuters news agency that the insurgents had warned local police and soldiers not to challenge them.

"Yesterday at sunset some gunmen contacted the most prominent tribal sheikhs in Baiji via cellphone and told them: 'We are coming to die or control Biji, so we advise you to ask your sons in the police and army to lay down their weapons and withdraw,'" said al-Qaisi.

Guards protecting the town's refinery, one of the most important in Iraq, were reported to have agreed to surrender if they were granted safe passage out of the town.

Flushing out foreign fighters

In response to the worsening crisis, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the government in Baghdad would work with the semi-autonomous regional government of Kurdistan to defeat the Islamists. Zebari also noted that many of the fighters were foreign, saying they would flushed out.

"The response has to be soon," said Zebari, on the sidelines of an EU-Arab League meeting in Athens on Wednesday. "There has to be a quick response to what has happened."

The Iraqi parliament was set to meet on Thursday to discuss a state of emergency that might give Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki greater powers in tackling the growing insurgency.

Foothold in two countries

ISIL has controlled the city of Fallujah for the past five months and on Tuesday claimed control of Iraq's second largest city, Mosul. It has also taken advantage of the civil war in neighboring Syria to gain a foothold there, where it is seen by some as the most capable of those forces fighting President Bashar al-Assad. The group is believed to be fighting to establish an Islamist emirate that would straddle Syria and Iraq.

The capture of Mosul has prompted the United States to voice concern about "a threat to the entire region." Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared himself "gravely concerned by the serious deterioration of the security situation in Mosul."

Some 500,000 Iraqis have fled homes as a result of the violence in and around Mosul, according to the International Organization for Migration.

rc/hc (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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