Iraq

TIKRIT Iraq (Reuters) – Sunni rebels from an al Qaeda splinter group overran the Iraqi city of Tikrit on Wednesday and closed in on the biggest oil refinery in the country, making further gains in their rapid military advance against the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad.

The threat to the Baiji refinery comes after militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized the northern city of Mosul, advancing their aim of creating a Sunni Caliphate straddling the border between Iraq and Syria.

The fall of Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city, is a blow to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s attempts to defeat the militants, who have seized territory in Iraq over the past year following the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

About 500,000 Iraqis have fled Mosul, home to 2 million people, and the surrounding province, many seeking safety in the autonomous Kurdistan region.

Having also taken two small towns north of Baghdad, Dhiluiya and Yathrib, the insurgents are in control of between 10 and 15 pct of Iraqi territory, excluding Kurdistan, and have led many Iraqis to fear they have the capital, Baghdad, in their sights.

Security sources said ISIL militants on Wednesday drove more than 60 vehicles into Tikrit, the home town of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, which lies about 100 miles (160 km) north of Baghdad.

The militants occupied the provincial government headquarters and raised the black flag of ISIL.

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