The Iraq army said today it has regained full control of the central city of Tikrit, a day after militant jihadists seized it, official sources and state-run media said today.
The militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took former dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on Wednesday as soldiers and security forces abandoned their posts and yielded ground once controlled by US troops. That seizure followed the capture of much of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, the previous day.
The group and its allies among local tribesmen also hold the city of Fallujah and other pockets of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province to the west of Baghdad.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi Parliament's session to consider a request to impose a state of emergency is postponed due to lack of quorum.
The al-Qaeda-inspired group that led the charge in capturing two key Sunni-dominated cities in Iraq this week vowed on Thursday to march on to Baghdad, raising fears about the Shia-led government's ability to slow the assault following the insurgents' lightning gains.
The Iraqi military also abandoned some posts in the ethnically mixed flashpoint city of Kirkuk that are now being held by the Kurdish security forces known as peshmerga, according to Brigadier Halogard Hikmat, a senior peshmerga official.
''We decided to move on and control the air base and some positions near it because we do not want these places with the weapons inside them to fall into the hands of the insurgents,'' said Brigadier Hikmat.
Militants also attacked an Iraqi security checkpoint in the town of Tarmiyah, 50 km north of Baghdad, killing five troops and wounding nine, said officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media.
A spokesman for the Islamic State said the group has old scores to settle with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government in Baghdad. The Iraqi leader, a Shiite, is trying to hold onto power after indecisive elections in April.
Al-Maliki has asked parliament to declare a state of emergency that would give him the ''necessary powers'' to run the country something legal experts said could include powers to impose curfews, restrict public movements and censor the media. Lawmakers are expected to consider that request later today.
The Islamic State's spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, also threatened that the group's fighters will take the southern Iraqi Shiite cities of Karbala and Najaf, which hold two of the holiest shrines for Shiite Muslims.
''We will march toward Baghdad because there we have an account to settle,'' he urged followers in an audio recording posted on militant websites commonly used by the group. The statement could not be independently verified.
Al-Adnani also said that one of his group's top military commanders, Adnan Ismail Najm, better known as Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Bilawi al-Anbari, was killed in the recent battles in Iraq.
The group added that Najm worked closely with the former leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by U.S. troops in 2006.
Najm was later detained and spent years in prison before he was set free two years ago, prepared and commanded the operations that led to the latest incursions by the group in northern and central Iraq.
Sinjar is 400 km northwest of Baghdad in Ninevah province, outside of the semiautonomous Kurdish area, but is under Kurdish control.
Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, offered his country's support to Iraq in its ''fight against terrorism'' during a phone call with his Iraqi counterpart, Iranian state TV reported.
Shiite powerhouse Iran, which has built close ties with Iraq's post-war government, a day earlier said it was halting flights to Baghdad because of security concerns and has intensified security measures along its borders.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday blasted the Islamic State as ''barbaric'' and said that his country's highest security body will hold an immediate meeting to review the developments in neighbouring Iraq.