A Kurdish Peshmerga stands guard as Iraqi displaced people hold their belongings in a truck near an ISIS checkpoint on June 16, 2014 in Iraq's second city of Mosul
A Kurdish Peshmerga stands guard as Iraqi displaced people hold their belongings in a truck near an ISIS checkpoint on June 16, 2014 in Iraq's second city of Mosul © Karim Sahib - AFP
A Kurdish Peshmerga stands guard as Iraqi displaced people hold their belongings in a truck near an ISIS checkpoint on June 16, 2014 in Iraq's second city of Mosul
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AFP
Last updated: June 20, 2014

Many of Iraq's major cities hit by jihadist onslaught

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

Here is a summary of the state of play in the main cities affected by the onslaught.

MOSUL: Iraq's second-biggest city was the first to fall in the swift Sunni militant offensive. Capital of Nineveh province, Mosul is held by insurgents led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant jihadist group. Hundreds of thousands of residents have fled the city of two million. There are conflicting reports about those who stayed behind, with some claiming they are chafing under strict Islamic law imposed by the jihadists while others say they have welcomed the militants.

TIKRIT: The second provincial capital captured after Mosul and hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussein. Militants seized the city in Salaheddin province and freed hundreds of prisoners as they pushed their advance south. Iraqi forces launched air strikes targeting militants holed up in a palace compound where Saddam once received foreign guests.

BAQUBA: Militants briefly controlled three areas of Baquba, the confessionally-mixed capital of restive Diyala province, just 60 kilometres (35 miles) 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, north of Baghdad in Salaheddin province, security forces wrested back full control of the facility on Thursday. The crisis, however, has further spooked international oil traders who are keeping a close eye on the militant offensive and its potential impact on Iraq's vast crude exports.

KIRKUK: The ethnically mixed oil city of Kirkuk is the capital of the eponymous northern province. It has changed hands in the course of the offensive. Forces from autonomous the 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.

SAMARRA: Home to the revered Shiite Al-Askari shrine, whose 2006 bombing sparked a bloody Sunni-Shiite sectarian war, Samarra has been attacked by militants but did not fall. Baghdad has sent reinforcements to the city, and said it aims to use it as a launchpad for operations to retake areas farther north.

BAGHDAD: Though militants have not been able to encroach on Baghdad, the mood in the capital has been tense. Security forces have taken on an increased presence, while Shiite militias are openly operating. Counter-terrorism forces were recently deployed to west Baghdad because of fears of "terrorist sleeper cells". A long-held overnight curfew on movement in the capital has been extended in some areas.

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