Insurgents from the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant have taken control of the central Iraqi city of Tikrit, independent site Alsumaria News reports.
The militants have also seized a military camp south of Tikrit, the site adds, citing an unnamed security official.
Earlier, the Iraqi government troops retook the strategic town of Biji on Wednesday, a day after the key oil refining city of Mosul was lost to militant Islamists, state—run media reported.
“The security forces, backed by tribal insurgents, have managed to fully cleanse Biji of gangs from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL), state—run Iraqiya TV reported.
The report, which could not be independently verified, came hours after an unnamed security official said ISIL insurgents had torched a court building and police station in the centre of Biji.
“They have also seized weapons of military troops,” the official told independent Alsumaria TV.
Biji, halfway to the capital Baghdad, is a seat of Iraq’s largest power station.
Meanwhile, relative calm prevailed in the northern city of Mosul two days after ISIL fighters captured it from government troops, independent news website Almada Press reported.
Businesses, including petrol stations, re—opened in Mosul, Iraq’s second—largest city, as ISIL gunmen told residents to return to normal life, witnesses said.
“No gunfire has been heard nor security forces seen in Mosul,” one resident told Almada Press.
“ISIL elements are touring the city in vehicles carrying the organization’s banners.” The al—Qaeda splinter group’s control of Mosul has triggered a mass exodus from the city.
Mosul is the capital city of Nineveh province, which local media said has come under ISIL domination.
The province’s governor Athil al—Nujaifi Wednesday demanded army commanders be court—martialed following the collapse of the security system in the area.
“The commanders had provided incorrect information about the situation to Prime Minister Nuri al—Maliki,” al—Nujaifi told reporters in Arbil in autonomous Kurdistan.
He accused the military of refusing to deliver weapons to Mosul’s residents to defend themselves against advancing ISIL forces.
“They said they have to notify Baghdad. One hour later, they left behind their armoured vehicles and military Humvees.” As jihadists overran Mosul on Monday, members of the security forces reportedly removed their uniforms and joined residents in fleeing the city en masse.
Al—Maliki Wednesday called Mosul’s fall a “conspiracy” and vowed to regain it by force.
“The commanders who retreated and wavered must be punished,” he said in Baghdad without elaborating. The Iraqi parliament is due to meet Thursday to debate a request by al—Maliki to declare a state of emergency to grant him larger powers to take on the jihadist militants.
Usual wrangling among the country’s political factions seems to have hindered an earlier meeting.
Meanwhile Turkish media report that up to 45 employees of the Turkish consulate, including diplomats, have been taken hostage by ISIL in Mosul.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is meeting with intelligence chiefs, a report said.
ISIL on a Twitter account claimed it had kidnapped Turkish diplomats working at the consulate.
More than 30 Turkish truck drivers are also being held by the radical group in the area.
ISIL already controls the city of Fallujah, a key city of Iraq’s western province of Anbar, and has mounted daring raids in recent weeks in other parts of Iraq.
The group has taken advantage of the conflict in neighbouring Syria to spread across the border.
Iraq has seen increasing violence over the last year, much of it blamed on ISIL and aimed at security forces and Shiite civilians.
The Shiite—led government’s response, with security sweeps and mass arrests, has alienated Iraq’s Sunni minority from which ISIL and other rebel groups draw their support.