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In a major blow to the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and to that country's stability, Sunni militants have taken over Iraq's second largest city.
Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant pushed Iraqi army units from parts of Mosul overnight after days of fighting. The largely Sunni-Muslim city in the north is a strategic hub for Iraq's oil industry, as well as a gateway to Syria.
The militants, also known as ISIS, or ISIL, captured military depots, equipment and weapons in Mosul. They also seized provincial government headquarters and freed more than 1,000 prisoners. Thousands of residents fled north toward the Kurdish autonomous region, jamming roads. Some were Iraqi soldiers, who left their uniforms in the streets.
In Baghdad, newly-reelected Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki addressed the most serious challenge yet in his eight-year tenure.
NOURI AL-MALIKI, Prime Minister, Iraq (through interpreter):
I call upon the parliament to live up to its responsibility to declare a state of emergency and general mobilization. We have to declare a comprehensive mobilization and the highest alert in political, financial and popular capabilities to defeat terrorism and bring life to normal in all areas occupied by terrorists, either in Mosul or any other city.
But Maliki's Shiite-led government has largely failed in reconciling with Iraq's Sunni population. The Islamic State has taken advantage of the breach. The Sunni extremist group previously took over Fallujah and parts of Ramadi in western and central Iraq.
It's also a principal combatant in Syria's civil war, but has fought against other rebel groups as fiercely as many of its units have fought against the army of President Assad. The group's ambitions there have led to a rupture with al-Qaida's core organization, which sides with the Syrian rebellion.
The attack on Mosul now threatens to draw nearby Kurdish forces into the fighting as well.
That drew this reaction from the U.S. State Department today.
JEN PSAKI, State Department Press Secretary:
The threat ISIL is presenting is not just threat to Iraq or the stability of Iraq, but it is a threat to the region. And this growing menace exemplifies the importance of Iraqis from all communities working together to confront this common enemy.
Iraq's parliament has announced it will meet Thursday to decide on a state of emergency.
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