As it happened: Iraq conflict

Key Points

  • Iraq's most senior Shia Muslim cleric issues call to arms against Sunni insurgents
  • Militants move closer to Baghdad, capturing two towns in Diyala province
  • Hundreds have been killed, and summary executions took place in Mosul, the UN says
  • The US is looking at "all options", including military action, to help Iraq fight the rebels
  • Iran has offered support against "terrorism" amid a report it sent some elite soldiers into Iraq
  • All times GMT

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    Hello and welcome to the BBC's live coverage of the continuing Islamist insurgency in Iraq. Sunni militants - led by al-Qaeda offshoot the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) - are moving towards the capital, Baghdad, after capturing two major cities.


    Meanwhile, Iraq's most senior Shia cleric - Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani - issued a call to arms to fight the militants.


    The UN says hundreds have been killed in recent days - with militants carrying out summary executions of civilians in the city of Mosul, which was seized earlier this week along with Tikrit.


    Overnight, the ISIS jihadists captured two towns in the Diyala province. That move opened up a new front in their advance.


    The advance by the militants has prompted concern within the international community. The US and Iran have promised to help the fight against the insurgency.

    Jeremy Bowen BBC Middle East editor

    says: "If ISIS can hold Mosul and consolidate its presence there, it will have taken a giant step towards its goal of creating an Islamist emirate that straddles Iraq and Syria."


    The militants have threatened to continue their advance on regions further south dominated by Iraq's Shia Muslim majority, who they regard as "infidels".


    On Thursday, with the militants closing in on the capital, forces from Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region took control of Kirkuk - a contested oil-rich city in the north.

    Kurdish security forces patrol Kirkuk. Photo: 13 June 2014 Kurdish security forces patrol Kirkuk

    ISIS reportedly has 3,000 to 5,000 fighters, and grew out of an al-Qaeda-linked group in Iraq. It was formed in April last year, and has since been disavowed by al-Qaeda. Correspondents say it appears to be surpassing al-Qaeda as the world's most dangerous jihadist group.

    Hashim in Baghdad

    emails: This is a conspiracy to divide Iraq and put sections of it under the influence of neighbouring countries. The players in this are Iran, Saudi, Turkey and the Kurds. The Iranians would get the south and Baghdad, and in return they give up their nuclear project... Nouri Maliki deepened division in Iraq with his unwillingness to give up power. He is no different to Saddam.


    UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville tells the BBC's Newshour programme that reports are being received of "very grave human rights violations including summary executions, [and] killings" by ISIS.


    Isra Yousif, who was among thousands of people who fled Mosul, has given a harrowing account what happened to her family when the militants moved in. In an interview to the BBC Radio 5 live, she also said that the Iraqi soldiers in the city "just took off their clothes and ran".


    Mr Colville (see 12:17 entry) adds that the Iraqi army and police have been targeted, as have been "civilians seen to be associated with the government in some way or other". He says the "spectre of sectarian conflict" is now "just around the corner".

    Volunteers gesture from an army truck in Baghdad. Photo: 13 June 2014 In Baghdad, volunteers have been joining the Iraqi army to fight the insurgents
    Jonathan Beale BBC defence correspondent in Baghdad

    says: "There is genuine concern about what is happening around Baghdad. Within 100km of the circumference of the city, there are pockets being contested. It is not panic - it is worry. There is a collapse of confidence in the government."


    US Secretary of State John Kerry says he expects "timely decisions" by President Barack Obama because of the gravity the situation in Iraq, according to the Reuters news agency.


    Mr Kerry is currently in London, attending a conference on countering sexual violence in conflict areas. A British government spokesman says Iraq was at the top of the agenda for talks between British Foreign Secretary William Hague and the US secretary of state.

    Richard Galpin BBC News, Baghdad

    says that social network sites - including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube - appear to be blocked in the capital.

    Rami Ruhayem BBC News

    reports: "Just got to the outskirts of Dohuk, 42km from Mosul. Tight security, light traffic both ways, some people going back. Peshmerga (Kurdish fighters) told us a few tents were set up here the first day of the exodus, but were removed because no-one wanted to stay in them. People seem to have crossed over into Dohuk and dispersed throughout the Kurdish region."


    tweets: @BBC_HaveYourSay @BBCWorld security forces check points in #Baghdad are looking for any deserters from the army or the police.


    More from US Secretary of State John Kerry. He says Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki needs to do more to put sectarian differences aside in Iraq, reports Reuters.


    UK Foreign Secretary William Hague urges Iraq's political leaders from different communities to unite in responding to the "brutal aggression against their country".

    ISIS fighters celebrate in Mosul. Photo: 12 June 2014 In Mosul, ISIS fighters have been celebrating the capture of Iraq's second-largest city
    Feras Kilani BBC News, Baghdad

    says people in the capital fear a repeat of the civil war waged between 2006 and 2008.

    AA from Mosul emails:

    Perhaps many think that those Islamic terrorists are imposing threats to the area and so on. But with all their negatives, the people are happy cause they are not "Maliki or Kurds", as these two parties, over the period of 11 years, only caused destruction and pain to the people living in Mosul and nearby areas.

    BBC News (World)

    tweets: With #ISIS taking over cities and town in days, is Iraq falling apart? …


    The BBC's Arabic Basheer Alzaidi reports: "In Tikrit, there are long queues of cars at the petrol stations; one of them was more for more than two kilometres. Some barbershops are putting up notices saying they will no longer do face threading anymore (face threading and bird shaving were both banned by extremist Sunni fighters in the past)."

    Jim Muir BBC News, Irbil

    says: "It is very hard to see how a major flare-up, involving a very strong sectarian dimension, can be avoided at this stage."

    Iraqi Shia tribal leaders in Baghdad chant slogans against the Sunni militants. Photo: 13 June 2014 Iraqi Shia tribal leaders in Baghdad chant slogans against the Sunni militants

    UK Prime Minister David Cameron has spoken with the Nato chief about the Iraq crisis. Downing Street stressed that Mr Cameron's conversation with Anders Fogh Rasmussen did not relate to any possible Nato deployment of military resources, but focused on how the alliance could strengthen the ability of countries threatened by violent extremism to deal with the problem.


    The BBC's John Simpson is currently answering questions in a Twitter Q&A on Iraq and Middle East. Join in by sending your questions to #AskBBCSimpson.

    Baghdad Soul

    emails: Baghdad has fallen into an economic breakdown, citizens are withdrawing their money from banks, US dollar is pulled from the market, people are buying all kinds of back-up food and water leading to a rise in prices. For example. one kilo of tomatoes used to cost 500 dinars, now it's 2000 dinar. Gas prices are still under control by the government but people are expecting a shortage of gas in the coming days.


    About half-a-million people have fled Mosul after hundreds of Islamist militants took control of the city, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).


    The recent gains by ISIS threaten to break the country apart along sectarian lines that pervade much of Iraq, reports the Washington Post. It also publishes an ethno-religious map of Iraq.

    Ray Lawson from Kenosha, Wyoming

    tweets: So if Iraq troops refuse to fight for the country how can we do anything in Iraq without boots on the ground?


    Foreign Policy magazine urges its readers to "step back from the breathless news for a second and look at what we actually know" about the insurgency in Iraq. It concludes: "The news from Iraq is bad. There is no candy-coating that stubborn fact. But before lapsing into talk about Iraq's imminent collapse, it might be prudent to let the situation develop for a week or so."


    Iraq's army helicopters have fired rockets on a mosque in Tikrit, a local official and witnesses are quoted as saying by Reuters.

    Anadolu Agency, Turkish news organisation

    tweets: Turkey issues travel warning on Iraq as the security situation has deteriorated in the country


    In its take on the unfolding crisis, the Economist writes: "The carnage in Iraq, though not as numerically horrendous as in Syria, has been growing ferociously, leaving 5,400 people dead this year alone. According to some estimates, ISIS has been responsible for 75% to 95% of all the attacks."

    Frank Gardner BBC security correspondent

    says: "Indications are that ISIS took control of Mosul, a city of two million, with just a battalion's worth of fighters (500-800)."


    Bahrain asks its citizens to leave Iraq "immediately", a state-run news agency reports. Foreign ministry statement instructs Bahraini nationals in Iraq to contact the embassy. (BBC Monitoring)


    The US is looking at "all options", including military action, to help Iraq fight the rebels. So how has President Obama's foreign policy fared when faced with this test, and others? "It is clear Mr Obama has not led, and has not imposed the US will on the world. But it is not so clear that a firm and muscular policy would succeed any more than imperial adventures of the past," argues the BBC North America editor Mark Mardell.

    A displaced Iraqi woman washes the hair of a toddler at a temporary camp in the northern Nineveh province. Photo: 13 June 2014 Thousands of people have fled Mosul, with many ending up in temporary shelters with very basic facilities

    Here are some key facts about the US military assistance to Iraq:

    • Washington is providing Baghdad with about $15bn in military equipment, under the foreign military sales programme
    • Earlier this year, after ISIS took over Fallujah, the US began to expedite the sale of military equipment to Iraq, including 500 Hellfire missiles, 24 Apache helicopters, F-16 fighter jets, and other weapons
    • The Pentagon has recently delivered 300 Hellfire missiles, millions of rounds of small arms, thousands of rounds of tank ammunition, with additional Hellfire missiles and Apache helicopters scheduled to arrive sometime this summer.

    And here are a few more facts:

    • 10 Scan Eagle surveillance (drones) "are on schedule for delivery for later in the year", according to the Pentagon
    • There are currently fewer than 200 Pentagon personnel in Iraq, including military personnel to provide US Embassy security
    • The Pentagon recently notified Congress that it plans to sell 200 Humvees to Iraq for $1 billion.

    "Iraq is disintegrating, and ISIS's success is just a distillation of the problems the country has been struggling with for some time now," writes Nicholas Slayton in the Atlantic.


    Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Gen Jonathan Shaw - the former commander of British forces in Basra - argues: "The disintegration of the Iraqi Army in the face of the ISIS advance should not have taken us by surprise."

    An Iraqi Shia man cleans weapons in Baghdad's Sadr City. Photo: 13 June 2014 In Baghdad, some Shia residents have been preparing for a possible attack of the Sunni militants

    Former Italian Ambassador Roberto Toscano writes in La Stampa that the "most significant and worrying aspect" of the ISIS offensive in Iraq "is the transition from terrorism to a military dimension and to aspirations of territorial conquest". The Islamist dream of setting up some kind of cross-border Islamist power no longer seems to belong to the realm of pure fantasy, he adds.

    Jim Muir BBC News, Irbil

    writes: "As Iraq descends deeper into chaos and the fires burn closer to Baghdad, the Kurds in the north have quietly taken advantage of the tumult to expand and tighten their control in the oil-rich Kirkuk province, long the object of their dreams and aspirations."


    Houzan Mahmoud, a human rights activist from Iraqi Kurdistan, tells the BBC's World Have Your Say programme: "I am worried about civilians because these Islamic terrorist groups will only create a bloodbath and will only bring more misery to the Iraqi people who have suffered for decades of dictatorship and then the post-invasion catastrophe."


    Iran, which is a majority Shia Muslim country, is so alarmed by the gains of the Sunni insurgents in Iraq that it may be willing to cooperate with Washington to help the Iraqi government fight back, a senior Iranian official tells Reuters.


    What is behind the surge by ISIS? Richard Spencer, writing in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, says: "The sudden rise of ISIS is the result of a crisis in the worldwide jihadist movement that has set the two most powerful heirs to the mantle of Osama bin Laden at loggerheads."


    Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki has travelled to the central city of Samarra for security meeting, AFP news agency quotes the city's governor as saying.

    Volunteers, who have joined the Iraqi army, travel in a bus in Najaf, south of Baghdad, on 13 June 2014 Men who have volunteered to join the Iraqi army are transported by bus in the Shia holy city of Najaf

    President Obama is expected to make a statement on the situation in Iraq at the White House shortly.


    Aiden Wylie, an English teacher working in Irbil in northern Iraq, has told the BBC he and his colleagues have been told the stay at home. "Work today was dark and serious," he said. "We have been told by our company to stay at home for the foreseeable future, and to avoid any trips to religious or political institutions."


    The US is considering an air assault on ISIS, officials tell the Guardian's Spencer Ackerman .


    Samarra - the town being visited by Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki - is home to the revered Shia Al-Askari shrine, which was bombed by militants in 2006, triggering a bloody bout of sectarian violence.


    Speaking at the White House, President Obama says the US will not be sending troops to Iraq but that he has asked his security teams to look into "other options". He says he will be considering these options in the coming days.


    Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces have reclaimed the town of Jalawla from ISIS militants, the Kurdish news website Rudaw has reported.


    Mr Obama has called on Iraq's leaders to set aside their differences to try to resolve the crisis. He said it was a wake-up call for them.

    President Barack Obama delivers a statement on the situation in Iraq on the White House South Lawn in Washington President Obama made his statement on the White House lawn

    Speaking about sectarian nature of the Iraq crisis, Mr Obama says: "This is a regional problem and it's going to be a long-term problem." He says a combination of responses is needed, including selected military action and international efforts to try to rebuild communities. "That's not an easy task," he says.


    "The US is not going to involve itself in more military action in Iraq without a political plan by the Iraqis," President Obama told reporters.


    Obama administration officials say the president is considering airstrikes using drones or manned aircraft, the Associated Press reports. Other short-term possibilities include more surveillance and intelligence gathering, including satellite coverage, and funds.

    Islamic Relief image of vulnerable displaced people in Irbil Islamic Relief, an international aid charity, has been providing food and basic supplies to these displaced people in Irbil

    European stock markets closed in the red on Friday, the AFP news agency reports, "with airlines hit hard by higher oil prices caused by spreading unrest in Iraq".


    "I am extremely concerned about the acute vulnerability of civilians caught in the cross-fire, or targeted in direct attacks by armed groups, or trapped in areas under the control of ISIL and their allies," UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has said in a statement. "Murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture constitute war crimes," she warned.

    Mark Mardell North America editor

    tweets: Obama pretty tough - although not in the way some may like. He says there may be military action but onus is on Iraq's leaders

    16:50: Richard Galpin BBC News, Baghdad

    says: "There are reports that in the holy city of Karbala alone, thousands of men have signed up to fight alongside the security forces following the appeal of Shia religious leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Their aim - to create a ring of steel around the capital to protect it from the ISIS fighters."


    The New York Times points out that although Mr Obama said he would "consult with Congress" about possible airstrikes in Iraq, he did not say whether he would seek a vote by lawmakers as he did last autumn when considering airstrikes against Syria. "In this case," the newspaper says, "the original congressional authorisation for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 has never expired, so he would have a different legal basis than he had with Syria."


    Here is another quote from President Obama speaking at the White House earlier. He said the US would pursue "intensive diplomacy... both inside of Iraq and across the region, because there's never going to be stability in Iraq or the broader region unless there are political outcomes that allow people to resolve their differences peacefully without resorting to war or relying on the United States' military."

    Andrew Roy Foreign Editor, BBC News

    tweets: Exclusive BBC speaks to Sunni leader in Samarra fighting ISIS: "we are in danger, insurgents have advantage & heavy weapons from our Army."


    "The most vexing question for the White House is no longer whether it is politic to recommit itself to military intervention in a country where it had celebrated victory and from which it had removed its remaining military forces. The problem lies in who we would be helping," writes Benjamin Wallace-Wells, in New York magazine.

    Iraqi men take part in a demonstration to show their support for the call to arms by Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in Najaf, on 13 2014 Iraqi men rallied in support of the call to arms by Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf

    Iran has deployed about 500 Revolutionary Guard troops to fight alongside Iraqi government security forces in Diyala province, a senior security official in Baghdad tells CNN. This follows similar claims in the Wall Street Journal.

    Frank Gardner BBC security correspondent

    tweets: #Iraq expert Prof Toby Dodge tells BBC that any US airstrikes on ISIS militants wd be "a disaster".


    The UN says it has verified reports that civilians and captured soldiers were summarily executed when ISIS militants swept into the city of Mosul earlier this week, the BBC's Jim Muir reports from Erbil in northern Iraq.


    Social media sites including Facebook and Twitter have been blocked in Iraq as well as sites such as YouTube, the Mashable website reports.


    More from the BBC's Jim Muir in Iraq: "With Shia volunteers mobilising to help defend the capital, [Baghdad], the potential for a disastrous sectarian collision is clearly high, if the rebels should push forward into [the city]."


    ISIS have tweeted the decapitated head of what appears to be an Iraqi policeman with the sentence: "This is our football, it's made of skin #World Cup," the Daily Telegraph reports.

    President Barack Obama meets with his national security staff on 13 June 2014

    A photo from the White House of President Barack Obama speaking to his national security staff about Iraq

    17:39: Matt Bradley Middle East correspondent for The Wall Street Journal

    tweets: I'm hearing from my colleague in Baghdad that all internet — not just Facebook — is essentially now out. #Iraq


    British Foreign Minister William Hague - after meeting his US counterpart John Kerry in London - outlines three key objectives:

    • To stabilise the situation - which he said was the responsibility of the Iraqi forces
    • For the Iraqi leadership "to come together in a united response"
    • Support for more than 500,000 people displaced by fighting in the north
    17:42: Hana Soliman from Erbil, Iraq

    emails: "Being a German national and a Kurdish girl living in Erbil, I'd like to say that in the Kurdish region there isn't lots of fear or excitement. Rather, people here in Kurdistan are convinced that ISIS militants aren't going to be able to take over Kurdish soil. People put their trust in the Kurdish Peshmerga and our Peshmerga insist that ISIS militants won't be able to go through Kurdistan and that they'll protect us with their lives.


    The Pentagon has said that it cannot confirm media reports about the presence of Iranian special forces inside Iraq, Reuters reports.


    The state department urges Iraq's neighbours not to undertake efforts to further promote sectarian tensions, Reuters reports.


    Kurdish commentators suggest that developments in Iraq could prove to be a blessing in disguise if the Kurdish leadership plays its cards right, BBC Monitoring reports.

    Former Kurdish MP and columnist Adnan Uthman writes on the KNN TV website the situation is "a rare historic opportunity" for the Kurds.


    State department spokeswoman Marie Harf says that any military action by the US will not be successful in the longer run if they are not matched by a political effort by Iraq. She refuses to specify any timelines for US action.


    State department spokeswoman Marie Harf also denies rumours that the US is talking to Iran about the Iraq crisis.


    Activists of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group say that ISIS has prevented food and medical supplies from reaching eastern Syria, but has ceased some of its operations in the area while waiting for weapons to arrive from Iraq, the Associated Press news agency reports.


    What will happen to the Kirkuk oilfield - "the basis of Iraq's northern production" - now that it is in Kurdish hands?

    While exports from Kirkuk have ceased since early March due to attacks on the pipeline, Reuters reports, Kurdistan has been exporting some oil via truck and a new pipeline to Turkey. But the exports have been "curtailed by pressure from Baghdad" on buyers not to touch the diverted oil, the news agency adds.


    The turmoil in Iraq has one winner - the Kurds, the Christian Science Monitor argues.


    President Obama is expected to talk to foreign leaders about the Iraq crisis over the weekend, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters travelling with the president on Air Force One.

    Baghdad Airport

    Kim H Nam sent this photo from Baghdad International Airport taken at 10:50 local time. She was flying to Abu Dhabi but said life was carrying on as normal in the Iraqi capital.


    China says that it is watching developments in Iraq closely, the Reuters news agency reports, pointing out the country is the top foreign player in Iraq's oilfields - "which are the largest in the Middle East open to foreign investment".


    On Friday, Hua Chunying, China's foreign ministry spokeswoman said they had been giving Iraq aid "for a long time" and was "willing to give whatever help it is able to". But she did not specify what kind of help.


    The areas where ISIS is operating largely match areas where al-Qaeda was active during the height of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq between 2004-06. Learn more about the geography of this conflict.


    The idea of US-Iranian co-operation over the Iraq crisis "is being discussed internally among the Tehran leadership", a senior Iranian official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We can work with Americans to end the insurgency in the Middle East."


    ISIS is known for having the biggest guns and paying the highest salaries, National Public Radio reports. It quotes analysts as saying that while kidnapping, oil smuggling and donations from sympathisers are well-known sources of money, the group also runs complex and brutal protection rackets.

    Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks during a news conference in Ankara 13 June 2014

    Turkey, which borders Iraq, has made little public comment on the situation. Their focus has been on ensuring the release of 80 Turks held captive of ISIS when its militants seized Mosul.

    "Nearly 100 of our citizens are in ISIL's hands," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, rejecting calls for a military mission to rescue them. "We are trying to find a solution."

    18:44: Liz Sly, Washington Post Beirut bureau chief

    tweets: "The map of a partitioned Iraq & Syria ignores Lebanon Turkey, Saudi etc. If it happens to one, it happens to all" and links to this tweet.


    To recap today's events in Iraq: ISIS has continued its advance in Iraq, capturing two additional towns overnight.


    In a rare move, Iran's top Shia cleric - Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani - issued a call to arms to fight the militants.


    And ISIS progress has alarmed both the US and Iran, with some Iranian officials suggesting the two countries could work together to prevent further gains.


    Standing on the south lawn of the White House earlier, US President Barack Obama made clear the US will not have troops on the ground, but is considering other options.


    Mr Obama also said Iraq's leaders must set aside their differences to try to resolve the crisis, saying it was a "wake-up call" for them.


    Thank you for joining us for our coverage of the ongoing conflict in Iraq. We will continue to cover the latest developments from the country and reaction around the world on and on BBC World News.


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