State of play in Iraq's conflict-hit areas

2014-06-24 05:15
Iraqi armed Shi'ite militiamen parade in Kirkuk. (Hussein Malla, AP)

Iraqi armed Shi'ite militiamen parade in Kirkuk. (Hussein Malla, AP)

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Baghdad - Sunni militants led by the powerful Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) jihadist group have overrun a swathe of territory north and west of Baghdad in a major offensive.

Here is the state of play in the regions affected by the onslaught.

Mosul: Iraq's second-biggest city, and capital of Nineveh province, was the first to fall in the swift offensive. Hundreds of thousands of residents have fled the city of two million after it was seized by the insurgents.

Tikrit: Militants seized the provincial capital of Salaheddin province and freed hundreds of prisoners as they pushed their advance south. Iraqi forces retaliated with air strikes on the city, hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussein.

Tal Afar: The Shi'ite-majority town, located along a strategic northern corridor to Syria, was seized by militants after days of heavy fighting, a local official and witnesses said. But the prime minister's security spokesperson said Iraqi forces were still fighting in the area.

Rabia: Forces from Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region took control of the border crossing with Syria after Iraqi security forces withdrew early in the militant offensive.

Al-Qaim: Militants seized control of the town and the eponymous border crossing with Syria, after fighters loyal to Syrian rebel groups withdrew.

Al-Waleed: With the fall of the border crossing to militants, all three official crossings with Syria are outside Iraqi government control.

Rawa and Ana: Militants have moved into the two towns, pushing their offensive in the desert province of Anbar farther east towards Baghdad after security forces made a "tactical" withdrawal. The militants then killed 21 local leaders in the towns.

Baquba: Militants briefly controlled three areas of the confessionally-mixed capital of restive Diyala province, just 60km north of Baghdad, but were repelled by security forces. During the violence, 44 prisoners in a police station were killed, but accounts conflict over who was responsible for the deaths.

Baiji: After protracted clashes with militants, who held parts of Iraq's biggest oil refinery near Baiji, in Salaheddin province, security forces wrested back full control of the facility. The violence spooked international oil traders.

Kirkuk: The ethnically mixed oil city is the capital of the eponymous northern province. It has changed hands in the course of the offensive. Forces from the autonomous Kurdish region took control of it after federal troops quit the area. The city is the heart of a swathe of disputed territory which the Kurds have long wanted to incorporate into their region, over Baghdad's strong objections. Sunni Arab militants hold a string of towns and surrounding areas west and south of the city.

Samarra: Home to the revered Shiite Al-Askari shrine, whose 2006 bombing sparked a bloody Sunni-Shi'ite sectarian war, the city was attacked by militants but did not fall. Baghdad sent reinforcements.

Baghdad: Though militants have not been able to encroach on the Iraqi capital, the mood is tense. Security forces took on an increased presence, while Shi'ite militias are openly operating.

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