Baghdad: Islamic militants overran parts of Iraq`s second-largest city of Mosul today, driving security forces from their posts and seizing the provincial government headquarters, security bases and other key buildings.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pressed parliament to declare a state of emergency.
The fight for Mosul was a heavy defeat in Baghdad`s battle against a widening insurgency by a breakaway al-Qaida group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has been trying, with some success, to seize territory both in Iraq and neighboring Syria.
Earlier this year, the group captured another Iraqi city, Fallujah, in the west of the country, and government forces have been unable to take it back after months of fighting.
The far larger Mosul is an even more strategic prize. The city and surrounding Ninevah province are a major export route for Iraqi oil and a gateway to Syria.
Regaining Mosul poses a daunting challenge for al-Maliki. The city has a Sunni Muslim majority and many in the community are already deeply embittered against his Shiite-led government.
During the nearly nine-year American presence in the country, Mosul was a major stronghold for al-Qaida and U.S. and Iraqi forces carried out repeated offensives there, regaining a semblance of control but never routing the insurgents entirely.
Islamic militants and Iraqi troops have been fighting for days in Mosul. But Monday night and into early Tuesday, the government forces in the city appeared to collapse.
Insurgents overran the Ninevah provincial government building in the city, a key symbol of state control, in the evening, and security forces fled many of their posts. The fighters stormed police stations, bases and prisons, capturing weapons and freeing prisoners.
Today, Mosul residents said the militants appeared to be in control of several parts of the city, raising the black banners that are the emblem of the Islamic State.
The residents spoke to The Associated Press by telephone on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety.
In a nationally televised press conference today, al-Maliki asked parliament to declare a state of emergency, acknowledging that militants had taken control of "vital areas in Mosul."
He said the public and government must unite "to confront this vicious attack, which will spare no Iraqi."