Islamic militants overran parts of Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, on Tuesday, driving security forces from their posts and seizing the provincial government headquarters, security bases and other key buildings. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asked parliament to declare a state of emergency.
The battle for Mosul was a serious blow to Baghdad's attempts to tame a widening insurgency by a breakaway al-Qaida group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Earlier this year, the group took over another Iraqi city, Fallujah, in the west of the country, and government forces have been unable to take it back after months of fighting.
In a nationally televised press conference, al-Maliki asked parliament to convene an urgent session to declare a state of emergency."Iraqi is undergoing a difficult stage," he said, acknowledging that militants had taken control of "vital areas in Mosul," and saying the public and government must unite "to confront this vicious attack, which will spare no Iraqi."
Under the constitution, parliament can declare a 30-day state of emergency on a two-thirds vote by its members, granting the prime minister the necessary powers to run the country.
The insurgents took control of Mosul's government complex for northern Ninevah province — a key symbol of state authority — late Monday after days of fighting in the city, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad. On Tuesday, Mosul residents said the militants appeared to be in control of several parts of the city, raising the black banners that are the emblem of the Islamic State. The residents spoke to The Associated Press by telephone on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety.