Iraq has been accused of abandoning it citizens to Islamic extremists who have overrun the country's second largest city, with furious world leaders telling the government to "step up to the plate".
As many as half a million have fled the city of Mosul after the sudden retreat of government forces leaving the town in control of extremists. Residents told the BBC jihadist flags were flying from buildings within hours and that loudspeakers played victory chants, with militants telling locals they were "liberating" the city.
"The army forces threw away their weapons, changed their clothes, abandoned their vehicles and left the city," Mahmud Nuri, a resident fleeing Mosul, told the AFP news agency.
The US is pressing for a strong response to drive the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria (ISIS - sometimes referred to ISIL) out of Mosul after the shock withdrawal of government forces.
In a sign that the US clearly believes the government has withdrawn without good enough reason, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that the US was encouraging “all Iraqi leaders including Prime Minister Maliki to do more to address unresolved issues to better meet the needs of all the Iraqi people”.
“We are going to continue our important relationship in terms of providing some security assistance to the government of Iraq but ultimately there is a responsibility on behalf of the Iraqi leaders to step up to the plate here, that includes prime minister Maliki."
Those Iraqi troops who withdrew from Mosul were, for the most part, trained and equipped by the Americans, and the retreat has embarrassed Washington. “I am not in a position to comment on their military capabilities," said Earnest.
“It is too much to say the Iraqi government has brought this upon itself. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this aggression we are seeing.
“A lot of this aggression is targeting innocent Iraqi people, it's despicable, and we stand with the Iraqi people as they fight it but, that said, there is more that can be done by all of the political leadership in Iraq including Prime Minister Maliki to better reflect or to better represent the needs of all of the Iraqi people and to address some of the unmet needs and concerns that have been expressed by the citizens there.”
Prime Minister al-Maliki demanded a state of emergency be declared after the insurgency. ISIS has been operating in northern and western parts of the state and across the border in Syria in recent months.
Having failed to recapture Fallujah from the extremists, al-Maliki now faces the difficult task of trying to retake Mosul, a city with a Sunni majority and a consequent ingrained opposition to Iraq’s Shiite-led government, as well as historical sympathies to al-Qaeda. After days of fighting, the militants finally pushed back security forces in the city, storming police stations, military bases and prisons, freeing the detainees.
With Mosul and the surrounding areas overrun, residents began to flee. Speaking to AP, Umm Karam said she left with her family on Tuesday. "The situation is chaotic inside the city and there is nobody to help us…we are afraid... There is no police or army in Mosul."
On Tuesday, parliamentary speaker Osama al-Nujaifi – a native of Mosul – told the nation via a televised address: "What happened is a disaster by any standard. The presence of these terrorist groups in this vast province... threatens not just the security and the unity of Iraq, but the whole Middle East.”