As it happened: Insurgency in Iraq

Key Points

  • Iraq formally asks the US to launch air strikes against jihadist militants who have seized several key cities
  • Iraq's army says it has repelled an Islamist-led militant attack on the Baiji oil refinery, the country's biggest
  • Government forces carry out new air strikes on militants advancing towards the capital Baghdad
  • US President Barack Obama is due to discuss Iraq with senior Congress members on Wednesday
  • Iran says it will not "spare any effort" to defend Shia holy shrines in Iraq
  • All times GMT

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    This brings to an end our live coverage of fast-moving events in Iraq, where Sunni insurgents are continuing to battle government forces, amid concerns they would move on the capital Baghdad. Thanks for staying with us! You can still follow all the latest developments on this and other stories on the BBC News website.


    "[ISIS] threatens all Iraqi people. And therefore should be a national stance from what is happening, a stance which is adopted by people from all sects," Sheikh al-Karbalai adds.

    Sheikh al-Karbalai

    BBC Arabic has spoken to Sheikh Abdulmehdi al-Karbalai, a representative of Iraq's top Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani, who earlier this week issued a call to arms against the militants. "They [ISIS] have publically announced that they will destroy all shrines... Their existence threatens Sunnis, Christians, and people from other religious beliefs," he said.


    The statistics show a major ISIS focus, over the past two years, on Nineveh province, which may help to explain the Iraqi army's headlong flight from Mosul last week, our correspondent adds.

    16:33: Paul Adams, BBC World Affairs correspondent

    Get past the gruesome audit of violence - the numbers of people ISIS claim to have killed through car bombs, suicide attacks and even "apostates run over" - and a picture emerges of an "increasingly structured organisation," in the words of an analysis by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).


    More from Gen Dempsey (see 15:40 entry). He tells a Senate committee meeting that it is in America's "national interest to counter [ISIS] wherever we find them".


    Iraqi Turkmens held a protest rally in Ankara against the killing of Shia ethnic Turkmen by militants in Iraq.

    Iraqi Turkmens stage a protest in Ankara, Turkey. Photo: 18 June 2014

    Barcin Yinanc, of Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper, tells the BBC: "Turkey was one of the countries who has long before warned about (Iraqi PM) Maliki's exclusive policies... which were leading to disaster".

    16:18: John Simpson BBC News, Baghdad

    says that "so far, ISIS has been operating solely in Sunni areas". He adds: "After years of neglect of Sunnis, ISIS is playing on this feeling of resentment."


    Jordan's Prince Hassan bin Talal tells the BBC there is a "need for a regional stabilisation programme" to defuse the crisis. "Fighting should be contained and there should be a ceasefire," he adds.


    Turkey's foreign ministry has urged Turkish nationals to leave all but the Kurdish regions in the north of Iraq amid reports some 15 Turks were abducted by militants near the city of Kirkuk, Reuters says.


    Earlier, US Republican House Speaker John Boehner appeared to rule out reaching out to Iran over the Iraq insurgency. The US and Iran have had more than 60 years of tricky relations, from the 1953 CIA-orchestrated overthrow of Iran's prime minister to a recent phone call between Presidents Obama and Rouhani.


    Many Iraqis have responded to a call for arms by top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Here a member of Iraq's security forces waves a national flag at a recruitment centre in the southern city of Najaf.

    Amember of Iraq's security forces waves a national flag at a recruitment centre in the southern city of Najaf. Photo: 18 June 2014
    Nick Jacob

    tweets: NBC/WSJ Poll: Obama's Foreign Policy Rating Plummets, Even Without Iraq - NBC News …


    Seyed Mohammand Marandi, professor at Tehran University, tells the BBC News TV channel that "the Iranians have been supporting the legitimate Iraqi government from the very beginning". He says the support was logistic, adding that there are "no plans to send (Iranian) troops on the ground".


    On the BBC's Echo Chambers blog, editor Anthony Zurcher writes about former Vice-President Dick Cheney's attack on President Obama over the Iraq violence, and rounds up the reaction. Mr Cheney was one of the architects of the 2003 US-led invasion in Iraq.


    Gen Martin Dempsey, the US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, confirms that Baghdad has formally requested US air support. His comments came at a meeting of the Senate Appropriations Defence Subcommittee in Washington.

    Breaking News

    Iraq has formally asked the US to conduct air strikes on jihadist insurgents, says Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.


    Zuhair al-Nahar, a spokesman for Iraq's ruling Dawa party, tells BBC World TV: "Rather than dividing Iraq, the ISIS attack has united Iraq."


    Mazin Younis, Iraqi human rights activist, tells BBC World TV there are a lots of question marks about the profile of ISIS. He says his contacts in Mosul stress that ISIS fighters have vowed to protect minorities there and guard churches, and a couple of days ago they even started distributing pensions.


    More from Azzam Tamimi (see 15:21 entry). He says that "the Sunni uprising should be treated as a legitimate uprising" against the authorities in Baghdad.


    Iraqi Shia militias are returning from the war in Syria, where they were fighting alongside pro-Assad forces, to help combat the advance of Sunni insurgents back home, Reuters reports. It quotes a spokesman for the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq group as saying it was responding to calls from Iraq's most senior Shia clerics to protect Iraq.


    Thousands of people have been displaced by the fighting in Iraq. Here, one woman collects pillows and mattresses at a temporary camp in the autonomous Kurdish region.

    An Iraqi displaced woman collects pillows and mattresses in Aski Kalak. Photo: 18 June 2014

    Azzam Tamimi, director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought, tells the BBC: "There is a massive Sunni alliance against the (Shia-led) Iraqi government, and ISIS is a small component in that alliance."

    15:17: Jonathan Beale BBC News, Baghdad

    says there is "a mood of anxiety" in the Iraqi capital. "The message the government wants to convey is that it is in complete control."


    The United Arab Emirates says it has withdrawn its ambassador to Iraq for "consultations" in view of the "dangerous developments" on the ground. It also cites concern at the Iraqi government's "exclusionary and sectarian policies that marginalise essential components of the Iraqi people," in reference to the Sunni minority.


    Another refugee adds that "Mosul is in a much better shape" after the ISIS takeover. "Food prices are cheaper. Everything is cheaper."

    15:12: Rami Ruhayem BBC News, Irbil

    has been meeting Iraqi refugees who fled the ISIS-controlled areas and are now staying at a makeshift camp. "I've been here for three days, and just want to go home," one woman says.


    You can tune into the BBC News Channel, World TV and the BBC Online live updates page now to see BBC News special coverage of the growing crisis in Iraq.


    As fighting rages on, Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region has formed a new government after months of political wrangling, AFP reports. "Today we announce the formation of the government in complicated circumstances," said Premier Nechirvan Barzani.


    US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has told a Senate panel that the US "can't dictate outcomes'' and it is "up to the Iraqi people'' to determine the course of their country.

    Alkan, Duhok, Kurdistan

    emails: It is quiet here. However since yesterday there is a severe petrol shortage...


    The BBC's Rami Ruhayem, in Irbil, speaks to one couple from Mosul, who say the city was in much better shape after the ISIS militants took over, with the price of petrol and tomatoes cheaper once the militants had entered. They are only afraid of shelling and air strikes from the Iraqi army, he adds.


    Life carries on as normal in Baghdad, despite ISIS militant threats to take the city.

    Iraqi men eat watermelon at a market in Baghdad , Iraq, on 18 June

    Michael Stephens, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar, said ISIS is "quite amorphous and diverse and it's quite difficult to pin down who they are and what they want... some people do consider it a civil war, there are other people that consider it simply an insurgency. From where I sit [it is] an insurgency that's fighting the government".


    You can watch a BBC News special on the situation in Iraq on the BBC News Channel in the UK and BBC World internationally at 16:00 BST (15:00 GMT) today and continue to follow our online live coverage.


    On possible US-Iran talks over Iraq, he says: "Absolutely not. I can just imagine what our friends in the region, our allies, would be thinking by reaching out to Iran at a time when they continue to pay for terrorists and foster terrorism not only in Syria, in Lebanon, but in Israel as well."


    More from Speaker Boehner: "The government of Iraq clearly is not the most effective government. They've had their challenges understanding how to run a free society and a government that is open. Having said that, that's nothing new."


    Ahead of a meeting at the White House with President Barack Obama and leaders in Congress, Republican House Speaker John Boehner said Mr Obama should put together a strategy "that will guarantee some success in keeping Iraq free and propping up the democracy that we fought so hard to get there".


    Iraqis displaced by fighting in the north cool off at a temporary camp in al-Hamdaniyah, 76 km (47 miles) west of the Kurdish autonomous region's capital Irbil.

    Iraqi displaced people cool down at a temporary camp set up to shelter Iraqis fleeing violence in northern Iraq on 18 June 2014 in al-Hamdaniyah, 76 kms west of the Kurdish autonomous region"s capital Arbil.

    As some foreign oil companies pull their staff out of Iraq, the British Foreign Office says it is aware of a "very small number of British nationals in affected areas and surrounding areas," and that it is providing consular assistance.

    Professor Gareth Stansfield, director of Middle East Studies at RUSI

    When we see the Kurdish leaders in the north really being very strong Kurdish nationalists and protecting their region - and we see the government of Nouri al-Maliki using sectarian rhetoric in the defence of Baghdad - I think we have to point to this turning into a sectarian civil war of very large proportions."


    US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he does not back sending troops "in the midst of this civil war in Iraq", Reuters reports. He tells Senate lawmakers: "It is not in the national security interest of our country".


    In the Netherlands, De Telegraaf's news website reports that the mayor of The Hague must decide whether a demonstration by ISIS supporters can take place at the Iraqi embassy on 20 June. The issue came to light when Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans responded to demands by the Christian Union party that the demonstration be banned. Mr Timmermans said the country allows the right to demonstrate.


    Female volunteers step forward in the Shia shrine city of Najaf to offer help in the battle against jihadist insurgents across Iraq.

    Iraqi Shia woman holds fun in air on 18 June 2014 in the southern Shia Muslim shrine city of Najaf

    Iran may consider working with the US over the Iraq crisis if talks on its nuclear programme are successful, President Hassan Rouhani's chief of staff tells reporters in Oslo. "If that comes to a final resolution, then there might be opportunities for other issues to be discussed," Mohammad Nahavandian says, quoted by AFP.


    Iraq's army has benefited from years of US and British training, as well as billions of dollars in military aid. But just how strong is it? Find out in this 45 second video explainer.

    Ahmed, Uganda

    emails: Iraq is an ancient country with early civilizations, with a Shia majority and Sunni strong minority. Since it is now a federal state, the Kurds should be allowed to restore their Kurdistan state otherwise the civil war in Iraq is an extension of the civil war in Syria.


    Security forces plan to complete "the liberation of the entire town" of Tal Afar by dawn on Thursday, AFP news agency quotes a security spokesman as saying. The forces will then press on to militant-held areas in the city of Mosul, he adds. Militant forces took control of the strategic town of Tal Afar, in Nineveh province, on Monday.


    Security is heightened across Iraq's oilfields, such as this one in Basra, in the wake of the attack on Baiji oil refinery.

    A member from the oil police forces stands guard at Zubair oilfield in Basra, southeast of Baghdad on 18 June 2014.
    Abir, Maidenhead

    emails: This is only about geopolitics, power and money and nothing to do with religion, but the sufferers are the ordinary people of Iraq, while they have been turned on each other.


    "People in Baghdad are very afraid. There are less people on the streets. The food and gas prices are increasing. People are afraid because ISIS knows only how to kill. In Baghdad there are more and more young men with arms and this is concerning as well as they are often irrational young people and we never know their reactions," Jaffar Emad, in Baghdad, tells the BBC.


    UK Prime Minister David Cameron has told MPs that an estimated 400 people from the UK have taken part in fighting with ISIS "but those numbers are much more based around what is happening in Syria, rather than what is happening in Iraq where we have considerably less information".


    emails: As a young Kurdish girl who was born in London, it kills me that my country and going through this. One of my cousins is in the army and is in Baiji, the situation is unreal. They haven't eaten for four days and have only just received food. We as an Iraqi nation, regardless of whether we are Sunni or Shia hope that this un-humane killing spree will stop.


    US President Barack Obama is expected to brief top congressional leaders later on Wednesday on what possible options the US could take in Iraq. The US has currently deployed up to 275 military personnel to protect staff at its huge embassy in the capital Baghdad.

    12:44: Richard Galpin BBC World Affairs reporter, Baghdad

    The BBC understands that the foreign workers at the Baiji refinery were evacuated last week, while those at the power-plant only left on Tuesday. According to one source, the Sunni insurgents/ISIS began threatening the area last week.


    Reuters news agency says it has been told by Dhiya Jaffar, the head of Iraq's state-run South Oil Company, that Exxon Mobil has carried out a "major evacuation" of its staff from Iraq, and that BP has evacuated 20% of its staff.


    Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki denounced what he called a "conspiracy" in his televised address, adding that "we will teach [the militants] a lesson and strike them".

    An image grab taken from Iraqiya channel shows Iraqi Primi Minister Nuri al-Maliki

    Ms Sen said Iraq would be experiencing shortages in petrol and diesel because the Baiji refinery had been offline for nearly a week. "Iraq will have to import these products into the country from the south, which will have its own logistical challenges," she added.


    Energy analyst Amrita Sen has told the BBC that the fighting in Iraq only added to the ongoing issue of instability in oil-producing countries in North Africa and the Middle East. As a result, oil prices are set to remain high "for a long time," she added.


    The speed with which ISIS took over Mosul and swathes of northern Iraq should not have come as a surprise to anyone who had read the organisation's meticulous annual reports, according to this piece in the Financial Times. "The reports paint a picture... not so much the ragtag terrorist band depicted by Iraqi officials but more of an organised military structure... and one with several of the hallmarks of a corporate entity," the piece says.


    Production at the contested Baiji refinery is now reported to have stopped, which could have an impact on the country's ability to generate electricity and could hit petrol supplies, the BBC's Richard Galpin reports from the capital Baghdad.


    Shia volunteers are seen here in Baghdad joining the Iraqi army to help fight the militants. Some analysts say the presence of Shia militias may worsen the sectarian nature of the conflict.

    Shiite volunteers for the Iraqi army

    In addition to the 40 Indian construction workers India says have been abducted in Mosul, nearly 50 Indian nurses are believed to be trapped in the city of Tikrit, the BBC's Andrew North reports from Delhi. There are also reports of another large group of construction workers being abducted near the city of Kirkuk, among them many Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.


    Iraqi special forces are seen here keeping watch as they secure a western district of the capital Baghdad.

    Iraqi special forces in West Baghdad

    While saying the "hard attack of direct intervention" may not be the answer, Mr Cameron said he disagreed with "people who say 'this is nothing to do with us'". He said the UK had to be "long-term, hard-headed, patient and intelligent with interventions".


    Reuters has reported UK Prime Minister David Cameron as saying that Islamist insurgents are "planning to attack Britain". On Tuesday he said Islamists in Iraq and Syria posed the biggest threat to the UK's security.


    This image shows volunteers in the Shia holy city of Karbala who have joined the Iraqi security forces to fight against ISIS.

    Iraqi military volunteers

    In his televised address Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acknowledged that the advance of Sunni militants was "a setback", but said it was bringing the country together. However, correspondents say calls for unity are unlikely to have much effect as Mr Maliki has openly sponsored the formation of Shia Muslim militias to fight alongside regular troops.


    This image grab, taken from a video uploaded on YouTube on Tuesday, allegedly shows armed ISIS militants in the northern city of Baiji.

    Image taken from a YouTube video allegedly showing (ISIS) militants in Baiji

    Mr Maliki went on to warn other governments in the region that terrorism would not stop at Iraq's border and that their countries could be "set ablaze".


    Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has made a televised speech calling on Iraqis to unite against the militants, accusing "outside sources" of aiding the insurgents.


    The Indian government says 40 Indian construction workers have been kidnapped in the city of Mosul, which fell to the militants last week.


    Welcome to the BBC website's live coverage of events in Iraq, where the government is continuing to fight an insurgency by Islamist militants. The militants - led by the al-Qaeda offshoot the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) - are now reported to have invaded the country's largest oil refinery at Baiji.


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