Violence Escalates in Iraq as Insurgents Overrun Second Key City
Islamist Militants Overrun Tikrit, Birthplace of Former Dictator Saddam Hussein
By ALI A. NABHAN in Baghdad and MATT BRADLEY in Cairo CONNECT
Updated June 11, 2014 11:49 a.m. ET
Islamist militants overran the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit and freed hundreds of prisoners from its jails on Wednesday, as rebels seized a second key Iraqi city in as many days and further destabilized the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The capture of Tikrit, the birthplace of former dictator Saddam Hussein, occcured just hours after rebels stormed the Turkish consulate in Mosul and took 10 diplomatic personnel hostage.
It also comes one day after Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, fell to fighters belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, an al Qaeda offshoot.
The identify of the militants who seized Tikrit, 87 miles north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, was not immediately known. But the takeover was confirmed by Ali Al Hamdani, a senior official in Salah Al Din province.
The noontime raid on Turkey's diplomatic compound was carried out by fighters belonging to ISIS, two Turkish officials said.
There probably were about 10 diplomatic staff inside the building at the time of the seizure, said one of the officials, with Turkish media reporting the total number of 48. Their condition was not immediately known.
Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was meeting with his top national security advisers late Wednesday to decide on the Turkish response.
Foreign ministers from the European Union and the Arab League who were meeting in Athens voiced concern about what they called the deteriorating security situation in Iraq. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters that his country faces a "mortal threat" from the ISIS insurgents.
In Mosul on Wednesday, rebel fighters took up posts guarding banks and shops and were policing lines at fuel stations in Mosul, witnesses said. They also circulated through city neighborhoods to help distribute fuel for generators, a main source of electricity.
One resident said traffic was moving normally following four days of fighting and a rebel triumph that underscored the inability of the central government in Baghdad to secure key areas of the country.
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"I had a tour in almost half of the city this morning. I drove around and I was astonished that everything was quiet," said Rayan Nadhim, 33, a car dealer. "All the streets are open. No checkpoints and no streets are closed."
While some residents of Mosul chose to remain in the city, the International Organization of Migration estimated that at least 500,000 people have fled the city and the province of Nineveh out of fear of escalating violence. The casualty toll from the four days of fighting wasn't known.
On their first full day of control in Mosul, the rebels were employing the same strategy they used in Fallujah, a Sunni-majority city 36 miles west of Baghdad that they have ruled since early January. Instead of policing the wearing of veils by women and chastising cigarette smokers, they were seeking to restore an air of normalcy for ordinary Iraqis.
Some inhabitants of the Sunni-dominated city of 1.8 million people who had run away days ago were filtering back home after their escape grew too onerous.
Mr. Nadhim returned to Mosul early Wednesday after he was turned back at checkpoints on the border of the semiautonomous Kurdish region. Following the increasing shortages and deprivation that marked the four-day siege, he said he was sitting in his home, air-conditioned with the aid of his now working generator.
The Iraqi security forces, meanwhile, were trying to rebuild their ranks after hundreds soldiers and police deserted their posts as the rebels advanced on Mosul. Those who returned to their barracks on Wednesday have been offered amnesty from prosecution, said security officials in the provinces of Kirkuk and Salah Al Din.
— Joe Parkinson and Emre Parker in Istanbul and Alkman Granitsas in Athens contributed to this article.