UN Security Council to discuss Iraq militant offensive

UNITED NTIONS, United States (AFP) - The UN Security Council will meet on Thursday to discuss Iraq in a sign of growing international alarm as an offensive by heavily armed jihadists sweeps closer to Baghdad.

Diplomats say the closed consultations will begin at 11.30am (1530 GMT) and will include a briefing by video link from the UN special representative to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon earlier urged the international community to unite behind Iraq as the country confronts the "serious security challenge."

Since the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) began its spectacular assault in Mosul late Monday, militants have captured a large swathe of northern and north-central Iraq, prompting as many as half a million people to flee their homes. The speed with which ISIL and its allies have advanced after their seizure on Tuesday of Mosul - a city of two million people - has sent alarm bells ringing in Western capitals.

The UN chief strongly condemned the surge in violence and warned that "terrorism must not be allowed to succeed in undoing the path toward democracy in Iraq," his spokesman said.

Mr Ban also called for the immediate, unconditional and safe release of 49 Turkish citizens kidnapped from their consulate in Mosul, including the consul general and several staff.

"The secretary-general calls on the international community to send a clear message that terrorist acts are unacceptable and those responsible must be held to account," the spokesman said.

The United Nations says more than 2,500 families are displaced inside Mosul, mostly living in schools and mosques, and an estimated 100,000 have entered Arbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR has mobilised tents with essential relief items, including water and sanitation, being delivered. The UN says the displacements complicate "an already severe displacement crisis" that saw hundreds of thousands of people leave their homes since January due to unrest in Anbar province.

"Resources are extremely limited," Mr Ban's spokesman told reporters, saying that donor funding to displaced families has reached only 10 per cent of the US$103 million (S$129 million) required.