Jihadists seize more areas in Iraq's Kirkuk province as US, UN voice concerns

KIRKUK (AFP) - Jihadists seized several areas in Iraq's Kirkuk province on Tuesday, a police officer said, after the militants took control of a whole province to its west.

The militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (Isil) overran the Hawijah, Zab, Riyadh and Abbasi areas west of the city of Kirkuk, and Rashad and Yankaja to its south, Colonel Ahmed Taha said.

He added that soldiers and police in Zab abandoned their posts, while Hawijah district council chief Hussein al-Juburi said soldiers in the area were apparently ordered to depart, allowing militants to move in and raise their flag over the police station.

The Kirkuk takeovers came after jihadists from the same group seized control of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, and the surrounding province of Nineveh earlier on Tuesday.

Nineveh, long a militant stronghold and one of the most dangerous areas in Iraq, shares a border with part of western Kirkuk province, which is located north of Baghdad.

Bloodshed is running at its highest levels since 2006-2007, when tens of thousands were killed in clashes between Iraq's Shiite majority and Sunni Arab minority.

The level of violence in Iraq surged last year after an April 23 security forces operation at an anti-government protest camp near Hawijah that sparked clashes in which dozens died, and has continued unabated since.

The United States warned earlier on Tuesday "it should be clear that Isil is not only a threat to the stability of Iraq, but a threat to the entire region", State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon also expressed grave concern, calling on political leaders to unite in the face of threats.

His spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Mr Ban was "gravely concerned by the serious deteriorating of the security situation in Mosul, where thousands of civilians have been displaced".

The UN chief "strongly condemns the terrorist attacks" across Iraq that have killed and wounded scores of civilians over the past several days and extends his condolences, he added.

"The secretary general urges all political leaders to show national unity against the threats facing Iraq, which can only be addressed on the basis of the constitution and within the democratic political process," he said.