UPDATE 1850 GMT: A resident of Samarra, 70 miles north of Baghdad, tells The Guardian of Friday’s clashes and maneuvers in the town:
Prominent dignitaries of Samarra met the military forces’ commander in the city, and proposed to form a brigade of the tribes men to protect the two shrines, but the commander refused.
We are distraught that something might go wrong, and that the shrines [are hit by] an attack like in 2006 –— you can imagine the catastrophe. Shia would mass for civil war. The rebels are so careful in getting inside Samarra for fear that the shrines would be bombed and they will be blamed….
A clash broke out today between the army checkpoints that are circling Samarra and the rebels who are making use of the deteriorating morale of the army. A few planes flied over Samara but they did not shoot any target.
See earlier updates at 0955 and 1430 GMT
UPDATE 1725 GMT: Kurdish peshmerga fighters have reclaimed Jalawla from the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham, after the Iraqi Army fired artillery from a nearby town.
Jalawla and the nearby town of Saadiyah had fallen to insurgents on Thursday after Iraqis troops fled their positions (see 0755 GMT). The ISIS forces withdrew under the artillery fire from Muqdadiya, leaving the Kurdish troops to move in.
Further north, insurgents ISIS fighters have surrounded the Baiji oil refinery — having captured the town on Wednesday — but have not yet moved into the complex.
UPDATE 1715 GMT: Speaking at the White House, President Obama has reinforced our Snap Analysis (see below) of the US line about a “wake-up” call in Iraq — Remain general and vague about military responses to the insurgency while maintaining real pressure on the al-Maliki Government to change its approach to rule in the pursuit of “unity”:
We will not be sending US troops back into combat but I have asked my national security team to arrange a number of options….I will be reviewing those options in the days ahead….
It’s going to take several days. This is not something that’s going to happen overnight.
Obama then laid down the line to Baghdad:
The United States is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that assures us that they are willing to work together….
Ultimately they are going to have to seize (the opportunity)….We are not going to be able to do it for them.
US officials had said before the statement that Washington is considering an air campaign, with either or both the Air Force and Navy’s planes, of undetermined duration.
A plan with manned aircraft was being preferred to drone strikes, given the former’s advantage against moving targets.
UPDATE 1545 GMT: Martin Chulov of The Guardian reports that most social media outlets have been cut off in Baghdad.
— Martin Chulov (@martinchulov) June 13, 2014
— Martin Chulov (@martinchulov) June 13, 2014
— Martin Chulov (@martinchulov) June 13, 2014
Other users said Twitter had been blocked.
An official in the Communications Ministry confirmed the suspension of services.
UPDATE 1540 GMT: Iraqi Army helicopters fired rockets on one of the largest mosques Tikrit on Friday, local officials and witnesses said.
It was unclear if there were any casualties.
Tikrit was taken by insurgents on Wednesday.
UPDATE 1430 GMT: Witnesses report clashes on the outskirts of Samarra between insurgents and Shia volunteer militias.
See earlier update at 0955 GMT
The sources said the city’s two Shia shrines are still undamaged so far and that the insurgents, trying to win over residents, are not menacing them. They report “Arabs from other countries” among the opposition fighters.
See earlier update at 0955 GMT
UPDATE 1150 GMT: Iraq’s leading Shia cleric, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has called on all Muslims to take up arms and defend the country.
Sistani’s representative, Sheikh Abdulmehdi al-Karbalai, said at Friday Prayers in the city of Karbala, said the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham — having taken cities and territory in northern Iraq — would now attack Baghdad as well as the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala:
Citizens who are able to bear arms and fight terrorists, defending their country and their people and their holy places, should volunteer and join the security forces to achieve this holy purpose.
He who sacrifices for the cause of defending his country and his family and his honour will be a martyr.
Earlier on Friday, leading Sunni cleric Sheikh Abdul Malik al-Sadi said the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham were defending the nation and the Sunni community.
UPDATE 1135 GMT: A Twitter account linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham is claiming that 1,700 Shia prisoners from the Iraqi Army have been executed, after the insurgents captured Mosul on Tuesday.
The account says 2,500 Sunni prisoners were pardoned.
Videos of hundreds of prisoners, being marched to an unknown location near Tikrit, were posted on Thursday:
UPDATE 0955 GMT: Witnesses near Samarra say insurgents are gathering for a possible assault on the city, 70 miles north of Baghdad.
Opposition fighters, including those of the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham, were repulsed by Iraqi security forces on Wednesday at the northwest entrance to Samarra.
Witnesses in the Dur area, between Tikrit and Samarra, said they saw “countless” vehicles carrying insurgents south during the night.
Observers in Samarra said fighters were gathering to the north, east, and southeast of the city.
A tribal leader said that insurgents had approached security forces in Samara, asking them to leave peacefully and promising not to harm the Al-Askari shrine.
The Shia shrine was bombed in 2006, fuelling a civil war and animosity between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
The tribal leader said security forces refused to withdraw.
Martin Chulov, reporting from Baghdad for The Guardian, says convoys of Shia men are travelling to Samarra to defend the city’s two shrines.
UPDATE 0800 GMT: Iraqi forces and insurgents have fought near Baquba, the capital of Diyala Province, 50 km (31 miles) north of Baghdad.
Police and army officiers also said security forces were battling insurgents on the outskirts of Muqdadiyah, 35 km (22 miles) northeast of Baquba.
UPDATE 0755 GMT: Insurgents have taken the towns of Saadiyah and Jalawla in Diyala Province in eastern Iraq.
“Security sources” said insurgents also claimed several villages around the Himreen mountains.
Kurdish peshmerga forces deployed more men to secure their political party offices in Jalawla before the insurgents arrived. There were no confrontations.
The Iraqi Army fired artillery at Saadiya and Jalawla from the nearby town of Muqdadiya, prompting dozens of families fleeing towards Khaniqin near the Iranian border,
Insurgents moved within 60 miles of Iraq’s capital Baghdad on Thursday, as President Obama warned of US action — without saying what that might be — if the advance continued.
The insurgents, including the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham, moved into Dhuluiyah and the nearby Muatassam area. The towns are 56 miles north of Baghdad, on the main highway to the second city of Mosul
Iraqi forces had checked the sudden advance of the insurgency, which had taken Mosul and Tikrit, at Samarra — about 15 miles further north — on Wednesday.
An ISIS spokesman said the fighters would move into the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in central Iraq, while a spokesman for one of the tribal factions controlling Mosul said Baghdad was the target.
Both assertions appear to be bluster at this time — Iran, which has already put elite military units into Iraq, has promised to defend the Shia shrines in Najaf and Karbala, while Iraqi forces are massed in strength in the capital.
However, news agencies reported panic buying among Baghdad civilians worried about an attack.
In Washington, President Obama declared, “(Iraq is) going to need more help from us, and it’s going to need more help from the international community….I don’t rule out anything, because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney later said that, despite Obama’s statement of all options on the table, no US troops would be sent to Iraq; however, “senior administration officials” said drone strikes were under consideration.
Inside Iraq, the political situation was complicated when Parliament could not assemble a quorum to vote on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s request for a national state of emergency.
Only 128 of 325 MPs turned up. Many Kurdish and Sunni lawmakers, who have objected to al-Maliki’s accumulation of powers and have claimed repression by the Government, refused to attend.
Woman in Baghdad: “All People Care About Now is Stockpiling Enough Food”
Another snapshot from Mona Mahmood of The Guardian, this time from a mother of two in Baghdad describing anger, worry, and resignation:
We can’t understand why (Prime Minister) Maliki isn’t using the planes he’s been buying for more than 10 years, to eliminate what he calls the Isis terrorists. We’re asking each other why, if you compare them to more than one million Iraqi forces, there is no governmental reaction whatsoever to a few elements of Isis. There is a weird silence and retreat by the army that it is difficult to comprehend….
All people care about now is stockpiling enough food to last as long as possible. Food products began to disappear from stores, and prices are soaring day and night. There is also the problem of storing food: the power might be cut off and all the food would rot, and there is a shortage in the gas tubes for cooking.
Today, we tried many petrol stations where they used to sell gas tubes but we could not find any. Our neighbour was able to get one for more than $25. We are worried that the power will be cut off, like the internet, which had disappeared since yesterday. We’re worried we will be suffocated by the heat, which is getting higher and higher day by day.
We do not know if ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham) would kill us or keep us alive should they step in Baghdad. I do not know why the US is not striking them now. Are they waiting for them to take Baghdad? Can these Americans tell us for once what are they doing?
Senior Iraqi Official: Iran Deploys 500 Revolutionary Guards North of Baghdad
A “senior Iraqi security official” in Baghdad has said that Iran has deployed about 500 Revolutionary Guards troops as insurgents advanced from the north towards the capital.
The official said the Iranian forces are now taking part in the battle in western Diyala province, north of Baghdad.
Iranian sources said Thursday that two battalions of the Qods Force, the elite branch of the Guards, had been dispatched to assist Iraqi security forces and Shia militias.
Video: Syria’s Insurgents Take Border Post Just Inside Iraq
Tahrir Souri reports that a coalition of Syrian insurgents — Jabhat al-Nusra, Islamic Front, and the Free Syrian Army — and Iraqi tribes have secured an Iraqi Army border post just inside Iraq.
The post is less than 8 km (5 miles) from the Syrian border town of Abu Kumal and 3 km (2 miles) from the al-Qa’em border crossing.
Washington Puts Pressure on Al-Maliki Government With Statements and Leaks
The initial US line on Friday is as much about putting pressure on the al-Maliki Government than it is about a defined military response to the insurgent advance.
While talking generally of “military support” for Baghdad, US Secretary of State John Kerry implicitly chided the Government for failing to build unity, as he spoke of a “real wake-up call” from the insurgent attacks: “Political division, fuelled by ethnic or sectarian differences simply cannot be allowed to steal from the Iraqi people what so many have given so much for over these…last years.”
US officials used The New York Times to castigate Iraqi security services:
The stunning collapse of Iraq’s army in a string of cities across the north reflects poor leadership, declining troop morale, broken equipment and a sharp decline in training since the last American advisers left the country in 2011….
Four of Iraq’s 14 army divisions virtually abandoned their posts, stripped off their uniforms and fled when confronted in cities such as Mosul and Tikrit by militant groups, principally fighters aligned with the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
The editors of the Times wash their hands of the crisis, ruling out significant military assistance like ground troops and airstrikes:
Why would the United States want to bail out a dangerous leader like Mr. Maliki, who is attempting to remain in power for a third term as prime minister? It is up to Iraq’s leaders to show leadership and name a new prime minister who will share power, make needed reforms and include all sectarian and ethnic groups, especially disenfranchised Sunnis, in the country’s political and economic life — if, indeed, it is not too late.
Is it possible the view of the Times’ top men reflect those of some within the Obama Administration?
Reports: Ankara Ordered Special Forces Not to Fight ISIS at Turkish Consulate in Mosul
Turkish media claimed the Erdoğan Government instructed special forces protecting the Turkish Consulate in Mosul not to fight the Islamic State of Iraq when it besieged the compound on Tuesday.
Forty-nine Turkish staff and dependents, including the Consul General, were abducted by ISIS and are still hostage in other locations in Iraq’s second city.
One hostage posted a message on an Internet forum used by Turkish special forces, saying ISIS attacked with “900 specially trained commandos” as Turks in the compound positioned snipers on rooftops:
They had mortars, DShK and PK-type heavy machine guns, RPGs and four tanks that they stole from the Iraqi army. We told the Foreign Ministry that we would clash until we ran out of ammunition, but the Foreign Ministry told us not to, saying, “We can’t lose our personnel so blatantly.”
We didn’t open the doors for almost two hours. We opened it after the order from Ankara.
UN: 100s May Have Been Killed in Mosul
The United Nations has said that hundreds of people may have been killed as insurgents took over Mosul this week.
UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said reports included the execution of 17 civilians working for the police and a court employee.
Colville said four women had killed themselves after being raped, 16 Georgians had been kidnapped, and prisoners released by the militants had been looking to exact revenge on those responsible for their detention.
The spokesman also said shelling by the Iraqi Army at the start of the fight for Mosul may have killed up to 30 civilians.
Iran Considering Cooperation with US Over Iraq
A “senior Iranian official” has said that Tehran is considering cooperation with the US to check the insurgent advance in Iraq.
Iranian officials told Reuters that they will send advisers and weaponry to Iraq; however, they said — contrary to reports that units of the elite Qods Force are already deployed in Baghdad and the religious cities of Najaf and Karbala — that troops would probably not be sent.
The senior official said, “We can work with Americans to end the insurgency in the Middle East. We are very influential in Iraq, Syria, and many other countries.”