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Militant Jihadis seize Iraq's northern Nineveh province

MOSUL, Iraq--Jihadists Tuesday seized Iraq's northern province of Nineveh, whose capital Mosul is the country's second-largest city, in a major blow to a government apparently incapable of stopping militant advances.

“All of Nineveh province fell into the hands of militants,” parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi told journalists in Baghdad, adding that the gunmen were heading toward Nineveh's neighboring province of Salaheddin, on the road to the capital.

An army brigadier general told AFP clashes with hundreds of militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) began late Monday.

An interior ministry official earlier said Mosul “is outside the control of the state and at the mercy of the militants” and that some soldiers and police had fled after removing their uniforms.

He said they announced over loudspeakers that they had “come to liberate” the city of an estimated two million people and that “they would only fight those who fight them.”

Military units first withdrew from the city's east, heading to its west, and then began leaving the city, along with thousands of residents, he said.

An AFP journalist, himself fleeing the city with his family, said shops were closed, a police station had been set ablaze and that numerous security forces vehicles had either been burned or abandoned.

The journalist saw hundreds of families leaving Mosul. Some were on foot, carrying their belongings, and others in vehicles with goods piled on the roofs.

One east Mosul resident said his neighborhood had been taken by the militants in just an hour, amid heavy gunfire.

The assailants seized the provincial government headquarters and the Nineveh Operations Command as well as the airport, the general said.

They also freed hundreds of prisoners from three jails.

Meanwhile, the Turkish consulate in Mosul confirmed reports that 28 Turkish truck drivers, carrying diesel from the Mediterranean port of Iskenderun to Mosul, had been abducted by ISIL militants.

No further details were immediately available.

Predominantly Sunni Muslim Nineveh has long been a militant stronghold and one of the most dangerous areas in the country.

ISIL, the most powerful militant group in Iraq, is also a key force in the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad in neighboring Syria. In April, it launched a new campaign in Syria's Deir Ezzor province, which borders Nineveh, aimed at carving out an Islamic state along the frontier.

Mosul, 350 kilometers north of Baghdad, is the second city after Fallujah, west of Baghdad, that the government has lost this year.

Some officials blamed ISIL for the Mosul takeover, but its exact role in the fighting was not immediately clear.

Violence also struck other areas of Iraq on Tuesday.

In Baquba, two bombs exploded and killed 20 people near a funeral procession for a teacher who was shot dead the night before, while three more died in Baghdad attacks.

Gunmen have launched major operations in Nineveh, Salaheddin, Anbar, Diyala and Baghdad provinces since Thursday, killing scores of people and highlighting both their long reach and the weakness of security forces.

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Iraqi families fleeing violence in the northern Nineveh province gather at a Kurdish checkpoint in Aski Kalak, 40 kilometers west of Arbil, in the autonomous region of Kurdistan on Tuesday, June 10. (AFP)

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