Sunni militants take control of Mosul, Iraq's second city – 500 000 civilians in exodus

Sunni militants have seized control of most of the center and of the south of Iraq's second city, Mosul, while police officers and army soldiers fled the town, leaving weapons, vehicles and even their uniforms to the gunmen. 500 000 of the 2,5 million inhabitants of the city have taken the roads to flee the fightings, according to the International Organisation of Migrations.

Militants belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an al-Qaeda splinter group, were apparently in control of much of the city by midday today. They captured military bases, Mosul's International Airport, the provincial governor's building and a jail, freeing the inmates. The Sunni militants inflicted a stunning defeat to government forces, which had devolved the past six days to countering the insurgent offensive concentrated in central and northern Iraq. Militants had stormed police stations, government offices and even an university. Corpses of dead soldiers, police officers and civilians could be seen lying in the streets of the city, along with dozens of burned army and police vehicles, according to witnesses. Militants were patrolling the city in puckup trucks and flying the black flag of ISIS, and tried to calm down civilians, telling them they did not intend to fight them.

Sunni Islamist militants are challenging the rule of Nouri Al-Maliki in Iraq. Mosul, a mainly Sunni city, has been for long irritated by his rule. Al-Maliki asked Parliament to declare a state of emergency, which would broaden arrest powers and allow curfews to be imposed. Parliament will answer Thursday on that. Mosul is called the last stronghold of al Qaeda in Iraq by the U.S. military and is also considered one of the main entry points for foreign fighters coming into the country by way of Syria.

On Saturday, car bombs killed scores of people across Baghdad, in one of the deadliest coordinated assaults in weeks. According to security officials, these attacks were an attempt by militants to distract the army from its ongoing battle in the western province of Anbar, where militants have managed to hold territory, including the city of Falluja and parts of neighboring Ramadi, for six months. ISIS militants have also managed to control much of the Nineveh province of Mosul for months, imposing tolls on the movement of goods and racketeering local officials. Extremist militants run extortion and kidnapping rings to finance their operations in Iraq and Syria.

In 2014, violence related to the crisis in the governorate of Anbar has claimed an estimated 5,520 civilian deaths and resulted in the displacement of over 70,000 families throughout the country. After six months of intensifying con­ict within the governorate of Anbar, violence between the security forces and militant groups has moved beyond the borders of Anbar and spread dramatically throughout the country. Furthermore, Internally Displaced Person (IDPs) have been identi‑ed in 17 of 18 governorates, illustrating that the ongoing con­flict and resulting displacement have directly affected all regions of Iraq. The weekend violence has displaced over 500 000 Iraqis within and outside the city of Mosul.

Indiscriminate shelling is continuing in Mosul, endangering the lives of many innocent civilians. Many were killed. The main hospital campus is unavailable as it is in the middle of clashes. Mosques were converted into temporary clinics. The western neighborhoods of Mosul are suffering from the lack of drinking water as the main water station for this area was destroyed by bombing. Families are running low on available food, particularly those that are hosting IDPs. Few areas receive electricity, and when they do it is for only 1 to 2 hours a day ; generators are inoperable because families do not have access to fuel.

The violence comes as the Iraqi government struggles with a surge in sectarian violence that killed almost 800 people, including 603 civilians, in May alone, according to the UN. Last year, more than 8,860 people died.

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