(SOURCE) Islamist militants are closing in on Baghdad after capturing two towns north of Iraq’s capital.
Officials said Iraqi soldiers abandoned their posts with no resistance when fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) pushed into Diyala province.
Militants driving machine gun-mounted pickups entered the towns of Jalula and Sadiyah on Thursday night, police said. Jalula is 80 miles from Baghdad and Sadiyah is 60 miles away.
Sunni fundamentalist fighters have vowed to capture Baghdad and Shia holy cities further south after overrunning Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and driving the army out of northern provinces.
The UN said hundreds have been killed – with militants carrying out summary executions of civilians in Mosul, including 17 civilians in one street.
A dozen Iraqi security personnel were also killed and four women committed suicide after being raped.
UNAMI, the UN’s mission to Iraq, estimates that almost 1,000 people may have been injured in recent days and half a million residents have fled Mosul.
A court employee in the Dawasa area of central Mosul was executed, said spokesman Rupert Colville.
Prisoners released by the militants from Mosul prison had been looking to exact revenge on those responsible for their incarceration and some went to Tikrit and killed seven former prison officers there, Mr Colville said.
“We’ve also had reports suggesting that government forces have also committed excesses, in particular the shelling of civilian areas on 6 and 8 June in Mosul, resulting in a large number of civilian casualties,” he added.
“There are claims that up to 30 civilians may have been killed during this shelling.”
The UN has also been told that Iraqi government forces were not allowing people to leave Mosul at one point and Isis are now using their own checkpoints to target dissenters.
Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has so far been unable to form a coherent response the al-Qaida-inspired group as the power of his Shia-led government evaporates in parts of the country.
He failed an attempt for parliament to declare a state of emergency on Thursday and has asked Barack Obama for help to combat the growing insurgency.
It is the biggest threat to Iraq’s stability since the withdrawal of US forces in 2011 and has pushed it nearer the prospect of partition into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish zones.
The rise of Isis, which wants to impose Sharia law, raises the prospect of more sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing. Much of Baghdad was cleansed of its Sunni population in 2005 and 2006.
A representative for Iraq’s top Shia cleric has called on Iraqis to defend their country by joining security forces to battle the militants.
Sheik Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie said it is “a duty” for citizens to defend against “the dangers threatening Iraq”.
Abu Mohamed al-Adnani, a spokesman for Isis, said that the Shia, 60 per cent of the Iraqi population, “are a disgraced people”, accusing them of being “polytheists”.