In Iraq, Mosul Falls To Insurgent Group

An extremist group that has taken over large parts of Syria has stormed into the major Iraqi city of Mosul. There are concerns that a crucial oil refinery could fall into their hands too.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

There are dramatic developments in Iraq where an extremist group, that's taken over large parts of Syria, has stormed into the major Iraqi city of Mosul. Leaders there are saying that this Al Qaeda offshoot, which is called the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria, may even be pushing south in the direction of Baghdad. NPR's Alice Fordham joins us now from northern Iraq for more. And tell us, what exactly the situation is there, in Mosul.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Well, as we understand things this morning, Mosul is still under the control of this group that we refer to as Isis. They have driven out hundreds of thousands of people from the city. It seems that the Iraqi security forces there dropped their weapons and left. I'm actually sitting right now at a checkpoint from the Mosul road into the northern part of Iraq and I can see hundreds of people streaming across the border.

MONTAGNE: Well, give us a sense of Mosul, just a small, nutshell version of how Mosul fits into the larger picture there, and why in fact this is rather a shock that it should now be in this situation.

FORDHAM: Exactly. Well, we've seen this group take over parts of Syria, parts of (unintelligible), the city of Fallujah, but Mosul is a large city, somewhere on a beacon of 2 million people. It's a trade hub. I'm sure a lot of people will remember, during American operations in Iraq, it was really fought over because it's important. And so it's a real shock to people, although they have seen the encroachment of these Islamist militants into Syria, into Iraq, this is a really key strategic city and I don't think anyone would be expecting it to fall so fast, so completely.

MONTAGNE: And in fact, how did that happen because there are thousands of Iraqi soldiers there?

FORDHAM: Right. A lot of people here are asking that question. The number of militants - we don't have a clear idea. But it points to - some people are saying - as we all say, you know - the leadership in the Iraqi military - there are a number of reasons this might be the case. There has been extensive fighting to try to retake Fallujah by Iraqi soldiers from the Islamist militants. And it's not been going well. Iraqi soldiers have told me stories of lack of equipment, lack of medicine for the wounded, even lack of food. And so it's the case that morale is low in the Iraqi army at the moment and people may have given up.

MONTAGNE: Well, just finding, a key question here would be this group, an al-Qaeda linked offshoot, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, that suggests something and that suggests that it's wanting to, like, control a lot of the area there. Would this particular moment, this takeover of Mosul, suggest that it is going to have an impact beyond Iraq?

FORDHAM: Absolutely. This is the worrying thing. So, yes, as you say, the name is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Their goal is to create a larger state with their extreme version of Islamic law - within the character - you know, they prefer territory that Iraq and Syria cover. So they've been able to take territory in Syria, in the course of this nasty little war that's happened there, and they've been able to take some territory in Iraq and we've seen attacks in Lebanon. We've seen attacks in Turkey but other neighboring countries - they're extremely worried. So this is something that's region-wide and not worldwide - the consequences.

MONTAGNE: Alice, thank you very much.

FORDHAM: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Alice Fordham, speaking to us from northern Iraq. This is NPR News.

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