Jihadists take Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit

The sweeping gains of Islamist militants and the rapid collapse of the Iraqi army on the frontlines sent shockwaves across the region and internationally

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Militants from the extremist Islamist State of Iraq and Syria on Wednesday seized the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, a day after the country’s second-largest city Mosul fell under their control.

Their sweeping advances, and the rapid collapse of the Iraqi army - on which the United States has spent at least $16 billion to rebuild - has sent shockwaves regionally and internationally.


Militants took control of government buildings, financial institutions and weapons stockpiles, which could help them gain strength in their war against the rule of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

In Tikrit - the hometown of the late Saddam Hussein, and the capital of Salaheddin province - the militants seized a local prison and freed hundreds of inmates.

Tikrit lies roughly half way between Baghdad and Mosul.

Infographic: More Iraq territory falls to ISIS

Infographic: More Iraq territory falls to ISIS
Infographic: More Iraq territory falls to ISIS

“All of Tikrit is in the hands of the militants,” a police colonel was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying.

A police brigadier-general said the ISIS militants attacked from the north, west and south of the city.

Iraq Tikrit AFP
Iraq Tikrit AFP

In Mosul, the militants on Wednesday seized 48 Turks from the Turkish consulate, including the consul-general, three children, and several members of Turkey’s special forces, a source in the Turkish prime minister’s office said.

Read the latest about the seizure of the Turkish consulate here

The United States voiced concern about the “serious situation.”

ISIS “is not only a threat to the stability of Iraq, but a threat to the entire region,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called 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 alongside other regional crises, Iraq needs to be addressed with urgency and seriousness by the international community that it has lacked so far.

Iraq Tikrit Reuters
Iraq Tikrit Reuters

“It’s essential that the leading international powers work with regional partners to ensure that this full-scale war doesn’t intensify further. Events in Iraq are a product of an Iraqi, regional and international failure over many years,” Doyle said.

Nouzad Hadi, the governor of the Iraqi Kurdish city of Arbil, blamed Maliki’s government for the fall of Nineveh province, including its capital Mosul.

Hadi told Dubai-based Hadath TV that Iraqi military forces “are well-armed with the latest weaponry from the United States,” but “Maliki’s security policy has led to this failure.”

He added: “This is a real tragedy.”

Commenting on Maliki’s policy towards the Sunnis in Iraq, Doyle said: “There needs to be a political approach that’s inclusive, one which doesn’t alienate the Sunni community or other major constituencies.

Iraq Tikrit AFP
Iraq Tikrit AFP

“This has been a considerable failure of the [Maliki] government... 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 Oct. 2013, before Maliki arrived in Washington on an official visit, six influential U.S. senators sent a letter to President Barack Obama in which they accused the prime minister of pursuing sectarian policies in Iraq and 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 “al-Qaeda in Iraq has returned with a vengeance.”

They added: “Unfortunately... Maliki’s mismanagement of Iraqi politics is contributing to the recent surge of violence.”

[With Reuters and AFP]

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