Turkey 'on alert' as NATO convenes on ISIL invasion in northern Iraq

Turkey 'on alert' as NATO convenes on ISIL invasion in northern Iraq

Turkey on alert as NATO convenes on ISIL invasion in northern Iraq

President Abdullah Gül (3rdL), Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (2ndL) and Chief of General Staff Necdet Özel (4thR) and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan (R) convened for an emergency meeting in Ankara after ISIL's raid on Turkey's Mosul Consulate. President's Press Office handout

The state of Turkey was "on alert" late June 11 after 80 Turkish citizens, including Consul General Öztürk Yılmaz, were taken hostage by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, as Turkish authorities talked to their U.S. counterparts on phone and briefed their NATO allies at an emergency meeting.

"All institutions of Turkey are on alert," Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ told the members of the Parliament, stressing that Ankara "took all necessary initiatives in international organizations."

While the Turkish Foreign Ministry had established a crisis desk to help the relatives of Turkish citizens abducted in Mosul, two key meetings were held in Ankara. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay and National Intelligence Agency (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan convened at the Prime Ministry for an emergency meeting that lasted two hours.

The second meeting was presided over by President Abdullah Gül. Along with the participants of the first meeting, Chief of Staff Necdet Özel was also present in the second "evaluation" meeting, which continued for over two hours. A public statement, scheduled to be released after this meeting, was ultimately cancelled.

In both meetings, Turkish officials agreed to act diplomatically and to try "to persuade" the militants, as the hostages are known to be safe and healthy under the current conditions.

After the meetings, Erdoğan spoke to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on the phone about the crisis, while Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who cut his U.S. trip short due to events, called U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and officials from the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government.

Meanwhile, Turkey called for an emergency meeting of NATO and Turkish Ambassador Fatih Ceylan briefed member states of the alliance about the situation in Mosul.

Turkey did not invoke Article 4 of the NATO charter, which allows any ally to call for consultations if the security of any member country is threatened. The June 11 meeting was merely for information purposes, a Turkish diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said there was "no question" of British troops being sent back to Iraq to help battle Islamic militants who have seized control of key cities.

Hague said that while the situation was of great concern, the government was "not countenancing at this stage any British military involvement." He said he believed Iraq had sufficient forces to counter the threat.

A U.S. official told AFP that the United States "stands ready" to help Iraq, but made no mention of sending troops.

Saddam Hussein’s hometown also seized

While the international community mulled responding to the emerging threat of the ISIL in northern Iraq, al-Qaeda-inspired militants continued to expand their territory.

AP reported that ISIL seized effective control of Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit on June 11, expanding their offensive closer to the Iraqi capital as soldiers and security forces abandoned their posts following clashes with the insurgents.

A day earlier, fighters from ISIL took control of much of Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, in a major blow to the authority of the country’s Shiite government and a sign of Iraq’s reversals since U.S. forces withdrew in late 2011.

An estimated half a million residents fled the city as the ISIL militants took control.

Tikrit residents reached by telephone said the militant group had taken over several police stations in the Sunni-dominated city. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of their safety.

As night fell, several hundred gunmen were in Tikrit, with clashes still taking place between the insurgents and military units on its outskirts, said Mizhar Fleih, the deputy head of the municipal council of nearby Samarra.

Two Iraqi security officials confirmed that Tikrit, the capital of Salahuddin province, was under the control of the ISIL, and said the provincial governor was missing. Tikrit is 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad.

The major oil refinery in Beiji, located between Mosul and Tikrit, remained in government control, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk to reporters.

Mosul’s fall was a heavy defeat for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and a sign of Iraq’s reversals since U.S. forces left the country in late 2011. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which wants to set up a militant enclave in the region, has been capturing territory in both Iraq and neighboring Syria in that country’s civil war.

Al-Maliki sees 'conspiracy'

Al-Maliki said the massive security failure in Sunni-dominated Ninevah province that allowed militants to seize Mosul was the result of a "conspiracy," and that those members of the security forces who fled rather than stand up to the militants should be punished.

He stopped short of assigning direct blame, however, choosing to focus instead on plans to fight back - without detailing the specifics.

"Today, the important thing is that we are working to solve the situation," a stern-faced al-Maliki said. "We are making preparations and we are regrouping the armed forces that are in charge of clearing Ninevah from those terrorists."

The stunning assault in Mosul by the al-Qaeda-inspired group saw black banner-waving insurgents raid government buildings, push out security forces and capture military vehicles as residents fled for their lives.
Mosul is the capital of Ninevah province. It and the neighboring Sunni-dominated province of Anbar share a long and porous border with Syria, where the Islamic State is also active.

Ninevah Gov. Atheel al-Nujaifi told reporters that "Mosul is capable of getting back on its feet and getting rid of all the outsiders," and said authorities planned to mobilize residents into militias that would play a role in retaking the city.

There were no immediate estimates on how many people were killed in the rampage, which sent an estimated 500,000 people fleeing the city and surrounding areas, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Some simply crossed to the eastern bank of the Tigris River to avoid the worst of the fighting, while others made their way to the Ninevah countryside or sought refuge in the nearby semiautonomous Kurdish region.

Getting into that area has grown trickier, however, with migrants without family members already in the enclave needing to secure permission from Kurdish authorities, according to the IOM.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the fall of Mosul to insurgents must bring the country’s leaders together and deal with the "serious, mortal threat" facing Iraq.

"We can push back on the terrorists ... and there would be a closer cooperation between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government to work together and try to flush out these foreign fighters," he said on the sidelines of a diplomatic meeting in Athens.

Mosul residents reached June 11 said gunmen went around knocking on doors, reassuring people they would not be harmed and urging civil servants to return to work. The situation appeared calm but tense, said the residents, who would not give their names out of concerns for their safety.

In an eastern section of the city, 34-year-old Ali Sameer said mosques in his neighborhood were calling on people to return to work, especially those in public services.

Al-Maliki has pressed parliament to declare a state of emergency over the Mosul attack.

Echoing al-Maliki, Ninevah Governor al-Nujaifi accused senior security force commanders of providing Baghdad with false information about the situation in Mosul and demanded they stand trial.

Speaking from the northern Kurdish city of Irbil where he took refuge, he said smaller armed groups had joined the Islamic State during the fight for control of the city.

Violence raged elsewhere in Iraq on June 11.

Police and hospital officials said a suicide bomber set off his explosive belt inside a tent where tribesmen were meeting to solve a tribal dispute in Baghdad’s Shiite Sadr City neighborhood, killing 24 and wounding 41. A car bomb in the district killed four more and wounded nine, while in the northern district of Khazimyah, a car bomb blast in a commercial street killed six people and wounded 14.

A car bomb struck Shiite pilgrims heading to the holy city of Karbala, killing four people and wounding 10, and another killed three people and wounded 12 in a town south of Baghdad.

All officials discussed the attacks on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.