Zee Media Bureau/Supriya Jha
Beirut: Hundreds of thousands of residents of Iraq`s Mosul had to flee the town as Sunni militants belonging to an al Qaeda offshoot - Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – wrested control of the town in a robust show of strength, exposing the lacunae in Iraq`s fragile security system.
Militants belonging to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took control of the strategically vital town of Mosul overnight in a striking manner, forcing even the US-trained Iraqi troops and police to abandon their posts, weapons and uniforms and escape.
ISIS fighters also took control of entire Nineveh province and some areas of Kirkuk province.
Mosul, a city of nearly 2 million residents, was left almost deserted with as many as 500,000 residents escaping the town, said the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
— IOM (@IOM_news) June 11, 2014
The refugees have fled to three neighbouring towns in Kurdistan, where authorities have set up temporary camps for them, reported the BBC.
Kurdistan`s PM in turn has appealed the UN refugee agency for help.
Reports said that militants hoisted jihadist flags over government buildings and announced that they had come to liberate their city.
The militants also seized a huge cache of vehicles, arms, ammunition – most of it US-made, which will equip them further to advance.
Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki made a televised statement yesterday, announcing a “general mobilization” of security forces and asked parliament to declare a state of emergency, so that he could have greater powers to impose curfews and arrest.
Speaking in Baghdad, Maliki said that he will not allow Mosul to come “under the shadow of terror and terrorists.”
The takeover of Mosul by the ISIS fighters comes five months after the al Qaeda-linked Sunni militants of the group Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) took over Fallujah in Iraq`s Anbar province.
Expressing concern at the events in Iraq, the US has warned against the seriousness of the situation saying that ISIL “is not only a threat to the stability of Iraq, but a threat to the entire region".
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that the ISIL was drawing "strength from the situation in Syria, from which it transfers recruits, sophisticated munitions, and resources to the fight in Iraq”.
Sectarian and ethnic tensions have risen in Iraq since the US withdrawal in December 2011, inflamed by the conflict in neighboring Syria, where mainly Sunni rebels are trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Shi`ite Iran.
Violence in Iraq spiked in April last year after the government staged a crackdown on a major Sunni protest camp. Iraq`s al Qaeda branch has fed on Sunni discontent and on the civil war in neighboring Syria, in which mostly Sunni rebels fight a government whose base is a Shiite offshoot sect.
According to the UN, over 8000 people died last year and 800 people were killed in May alone.