Militants seized on Wednesday Turkey’s consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, including the consul-general, Reuters news agency quoted a source in the Turkish prime minister's office as saying, as Islamist gunmen seized further territory in the Arab country.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, meanwhile, blamed a “massive security failure” for the fall of swathes of territory to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).
Infographic: More Iraq territory falls to ISIS
Infographic: More Iraq territory falls to ISIS
The source told Reuters that Turkey’s consul-general, three children and several members of Turkey's Special Forces were among those detained by ISIS fighters at the consulate in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.
The seizure of the consulate means at least 76 Turks are now being held by militants there. It comes a day after 28 Turkish truck drivers were abducted by ISIS militants while they were delivering diesel to a power plant in the city.
"Certain militant groups in Mosul have been directly contacted to ensure the safety of diplomatic staff," Reuters quoted a Turkish government source as saying.
Ankara vowed it would retaliate if any of the hostages were harmed.
"All those involved should know that if our citizens are harmed in any way, they will be the subject of harsh reprisals," Turkish media quoted Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as saying at the United Nations in New York.
A Turkish foreign ministry official also said Ankara had called for an emergency NATO meeting on the security situation in Iraq.
The Sunni insurgent group, which seized large swathes of Mosul on Tuesday in a show of strength against Iraq’s Shiite-led government, made further advances Wednesday.
AFP quoted Iraqi police as saying that the militants had taken control of the Iraqi city of Tikrit, the second provincial capital to fall in two days, and freed 300 hundred prisoners there.
"All of Tikrit is in the hands of the militants," AFP quoted a police colonel as saying of the Salaheddin provincial capital, which lies roughly half way between Baghdad and Mosul.
The Sunni insurgents also advanced into the oil refinery town of Baiji, Reuters quoted security sources as saying.
The militants set the town’s court house and police station on fire, the sources said.
The refinery is protected by around 250 guards, and security sources said the militants had sent a delegation of local tribal sheikhs to convince them to withdraw.
The guards agreed to pull out on the condition that they were transferred safely to another town, the sources added.
Witnesses from Bashiqa, a town east of Mosul, told AFP by telephone that gunmen stood guard at government buildings and banks, while dozens of families continued to flee the city.
Areas west of Kirkuk have also fallen under the control of ISIS after the Iraqi army withdrew its forces on Tuesday, Al Arabiya’s correspondent reported.
They managed to seize Kirkuk’s Zab and Abbasi areas, while battles continued at the borders of the Hawijah and Rashad.
Kurdish forces reportedly besieged Kirkuk on Wednesday to prevent ISIS militants from spreading, a military source told Al Arabiya News Channel.
Maliki said the massive security failure in Nineveh province that allowed militants aligned with ISIS to seize Mosul was the result of a "conspiracy," and that those members of the security forces who fled the fighting rather than standing up to the militants should be punished.
He stopped short of assigning direct blame, however, choosing to focus instead on plans to fight back - without detailing the specifics.
"Today, the important thing is that we are working to solve the situation," a stern-faced al-Maliki said. "We are making preparations and we are regrouping the armed forces that are in charge of clearing Nineveh from those terrorists."
Maliki on Tuesday offered weapons and equipment to citizens who volunteer to fight Islamist militants.
In a statement broadcast on state television, Maliki said the cabinet has “created a special crisis cell to follow up on the process of volunteering and equipping and arming.”
As the violence mounted Wednesday, powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who led the once-feared Mahdi Army militia, called for the formation of units to defend religious sites in Iraq.
Sadr said in a written statement that he was ready "to form peace units to defend the holy places" of both Muslims and Christians, in cooperation with the government.
Meanwhile, some 500,000 Iraqis have fled their homes in Mosul fearing increased violence, the International Organization for Migration.
The Geneva-based organization said its sources on the ground estimated the violence leading up to the Islamic State of Iraq's total takeover on Tuesday "displaced over 500,000 people in and around the city."
Violence is running at its highest levels since 2006-2007, when tens of thousands were killed in clashes between Iraq’s Shiite majority and Sunni Arab minority.
The level of violence in Iraq surged last year after an April 23 operation by security forces at an anti-government protest camp near Hawijah that sparked clashes in which dozens died, and has continued unabated since.
(With Reuters, AFP and AP)