BAGHDAD — Al Qaeda-inspired militants seized effective control Wednesday of Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, expanding their offensive closer to the Iraqi capital as soldiers and security forces abandoned their posts following clashes with the insurgents.
Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took control a day earlier of much of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in a major blow to the authority of the country’s Shiite government. An estimated half a million residents fled the economically important city.
Residents reached by telephone in Sunni-dominated Tikrit said the Sunni militant group had taken over several police stations. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of their safety.
Two Iraqi security officials confirmed Tikrit was under the control of the ISIL, and said the provincial governor was missing. The officials insisted their names not be used because they weren’t authorized to release the information. Tikrit, the capital of Salahuddin province, is 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the massive security failure in Sunni-dominated Ninevah province that allowed militants to seize Mosul was the result of a ‘‘conspiracy,’’ and that those members of the security forces who fled rather than stand up to the militants should be punished.
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