22.25 We're going to leave it there for tonight. Please check our Iraqpage for the latest.
22.10 Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General, is calling for the international community to stand behind Iraq. A spokesman said:
The secretary-general urges the international community to unite in showing solidarity with Iraq as it confronts this serious security challenge.
21.35 Here's some Youtube footage purportedly showing abandoned Iraqi military positions in Mosul and ISIS fighters driving openly through the streets with their black banners flying.
21.15 We've heard consistent reports that the Iraqi security forces - which the US and Britain spent billions training and equipping - melted in the face of the Sunni militants' advance.
20.45 The US Embassy in Iraq has a grim message to Americans travelling in the country: things are as bad now as the height of the fighting in 2007.
Numerous insurgent groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), previously known as al-Qa’ida in Iraq, remain active and terrorist activity and violence persist in many areas of the country at levels unseen since 2007.
20.15 The Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad has said it is prepared to come to Iraq's aid against the Sunni insurgents sweeping through the country. "The foreign-backed terrorism that our brothers in Iraq are facing is the same that is targeting Syria," the foreign ministry said.
While it's true Assad and the Iraqi government have a common enemy, it's not clear the Syrians can spare any troops from their own fight to help Baghdad.
20.00 The crisis in Iraq isn't getting much attention in Washington, where the focus is on an unfolding political drama on Capitol Hill. But some of the more hawkish Republican senators are bringing it up, accusing Obama of prematurely withdrawing from Iraq in 2010 and allowing chaos to fill the vacuum.
Here's Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida:
As much as it may be popular, declaring wars over prematurely and playing down the threats posed by hardened terrorists has not made us safer. It has made us less secure. After significant sacrifices in American lives and financial support for the future of the Iraqi people, we have squandered the gains in that country. We need to ensure our assistance programs to Iraq are adequate to deal with the threats to their stability.
19.45 Raised eyebrows in the US...
19.39 William Hague has been speaking about Iraq just now.
He said while the situation was of great concern, the government was "not countenancing at this stage any British military involvement," and that he believed Iraq had sufficient forces to counter the threat.
We are very worried about this.
It's very important that the civilian population are protected as well as possible, that people who are fleeing the area are looked after by the Iraqi authorities and people in neighbouring countries as well.
It underlines the importance of trying to resolve the Syria crisis which we've been working on for a long time, because that is infecting neighbouring countries, including destabilising Iraq.
And it shows how important it is for the Iraqi leaders to form a new government quickly.
They've just had an election. And to have the political unity and consensus to deal with this."
Asked if Britain would offer military assistance to Baghdad, he said:
It's for Iraq primarily to respond to this.
Iraq has considerable resources. It has its armed forces.
We're not countenancing at this stage any British military involvement."
Asked if British troops could return, five years after British combat operations ceased in Iraq, he said:
There is no question of that.
We left Iraq in the hands of elected Iraqi leaders with armed forces, with their own security forces, so it is primarily for them to deal with.
We will do everything we can to relieve humanitarian suffering and of course to resolve the long-running crisis in Syria."
19.21 Iraqis who fled the violence in Mosul stand in a queue at a checkpoint in Erbil, Kurdistan region, north Iraq, earlier today.
19.17 Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has been speaking about the kidnap of 80 Turks in Iraq.
Right now we're engaged in calm crisis management, considering our citizens' security.
This should not be misunderstood. Any harm to our citizens and staff would be met with the harshest retaliation.
He spoke in New York but has cancelled meetings at the UN to return to Turkey.
19.02 Good point from Steven Cook - a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
18.56 Reuters - NATO AMBASSADORS HELD EMERGENCY MEETING ON WEDNESDAY AT TURKEY'S REQUEST TO DISCUSS IRAQ SITUATION - NATO OFFICIAL
18.45 Our defence correspondent, Ben Farmer, has been speaking to British military sources about events in Iraq.
He has spoken to Lord Dannatt, chief of the general staff from 2006-9.
Lord Dannatt, a former head of the Army, cautioned against “rushing to apocalyptic judgments” about what was left of Britain’s legacy in Iraq.
He said: “Our involvement was in the south and this is in the north. Are we seeing Basra in flames? No we are not. This is a problem in the Sunni north and Baghdad. “
But he acknowledged that the situation in the north appeared “very dangerous”.
He said: “It’s linked very closely to what’s going on in Syria. This is an insurgency that doesn’t respect national boundaries.”
18.39 More from the briefing in Washington now.
Reuters: STATE DEPARTMENT SAYS U.S. UNDERSTANDING IS THAT IRAQ'S BIGGEST OIL REFINERY "REMAINS UNDER CONTROL OF THE GOVERNMENT"
18.38 Ban ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general, has been speaking about the kidnapping of the Turkish diplomats and civilians in Mosul.
The UN chief told a meeting on counter-terrorism Wednesday he was "shocked" to learn of the kidnappings by "terrorists."
He urged the Iraqi government, regional countries and the international community to do everything possible to secure the safe release of the diplomats and bring the perpetrators to justice.
"This is totally unacceptable," he said.
18.33 Our Washington correspondent, Raf Sanchez, is at the state department and has more details.
18.29 Breaking from Reuters: US 'stands ready' to provide assistance to Iraq
No detail yet on what that means - but almost certain to be diplomatic and equipment, rather than actual military intervention.
18.24 A Turkish foreign ministry official has just called for an urgent Nato meeting on Iraq.
As you'll remember (see 17.44), 80 Turkish citizens are currently being held hostage.
18.08 AFP - Iran offers Iraq support against 'terrorism:' foreign minister
People gather at the site of a suicide-bomb attack in Baghdad's Shi'ite slum of Sadr city today
17.44 Turkey is now claiming 80 citizens are being held in two separate incidents in Mosul.
The ministry said 49 of its citizens had been seized at its consulate-general and transferred to another part of the city, while 31 others - truck drivers who were abducted on Tuesday - were being held hostage at a power station in Mosul.
Q. How did ISIS become so dominant in western Iraq? Wasn't it supposed to have been defeated before the Americans pulled out of Iraq in 2011?
A. The so-called "surge" launched by President George W. Bush did indeed reduce both Shia and Sunni violence in Iraq between 2006 and 2008.
However, lower level violence, including bombings by ISI especially of Shia pilgrimages and police stations continued, rising slowly last year.
Then, in a lightning strike in December, ISIS seized control of Fallujah and Ramadi, the two major Sunni strongholds of western Anbar province, neighbouring Syria. The Iraqi security forces made some inroads against them, but without any apparent strategy either to retake the cities or to win back their populations. Last week, ISIS began a major assault against other Iraqi cities in Sunni areas, including both Samarra, north of Baghdad, and Mosul.
17.35 The Telegraph's Colin Freeman explains the crisis in Iraq - in 60 seconds:
17.25 Turkey's foreign minister has said Ankara will respond if any of its citizens held captive in Iraq are harmed, Reuters reports.
"ISIS fighters happy as they head to Samarra. Sunni city w\ important Shiite Al-Askari mosque" [caption from twitter]
17.00 Robert Tait, Telegraph Middle East correspondent reports:
The most senior of the 48 Turks seized by Islamist militants in Mosul is a former adviser to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister.
Ozturk Yilmaz, consul general at the Turkish mission in the Iraqi city, worked as Mr Erdogan's foreign policy adviser, based in Ankara, Turkey's capital, before being appointed to his current post, the English-language Hurriyet Daily News reported.
Mr Yilmaz, a career diplomat and a Middle East specialist, previously worked at the Turkish mission to the EU in Brussels.
He was seized along with 47 other consular staff and their family members when forces from the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIS) overran the consulate compound.
Mr Yilmaz had prepared an evacuation plan on Monday but had been unable to put it into effect because of "security circumstances" in the surrounding area, according to Hurriyet. However, consular staff successfully defused an encrypted computer and destroyed confidential diplomatic documents, sources said.
An image grab taken from a video uploaded on Youtube on 11 June 11 2014, allegedly shows a damaged Iraqi forces vehicle on a street in Iraq's second city Mosul, following fighting with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) militants
16.53 The US has said it will come to the aid of the 500,000 people who have fled fierce fighting in Iraq.
Denouncing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) as "one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world," Stuart Jones, the nominee to be the next US envoy to Baghdad, told US politicians the United States "will continue to monitor the situation closely, and will work with our international partners to try to meet the needs of those who have been displaced".
16.32 Telegraph video showing the devastation caused by ISIS troops sweeping through northern Iraq:
16.25 The European Union and the League of Arab states have urged democratic forces in Iraq to unite against Islamic jihadists. EU and Arab foreign ministers released a joint statement following a meeting in Athens:
The EU and the LAS call upon all Iraqi democratic forces to work together...to overcome this challenge to the security of Iraq.
In particular, the LAS and the EU call on the government of Iraq and the government of the Kurdistan region to combine their political and military forces in order to restore security to Mosul and Nineveh.
16.22 Jenan Moussa, from the Arabic Al Aan TV station, tweets:
16.10 Militants seized 48 Turks in an attack on the Turkish consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Reuters reports, including the consul-general, three children and several members of Turkey's special forces, a source in the prime minister's office said.
The group was taken from the consulate building to a militant base. Turkish authorities confirmed that all of them are unharmed, the source said.
16.07 A suicide bomber has killed at least 16 people in the BaghdadShia district of Sadr City, police and doctors have told Reuters.
Iraqi policemen are seen on patrol inside a military base in Baghdad, on June 11, 2014, after the declaration of a state of emergency by the government
16.02 UK military support for Iraq in the fight against Islamist extremists in the north of the country is "not on the table", Downing Street has said.
David Cameron's official spokesman said that the UK was ready to offer assistance on the diplomatic level to the Baghdad government.
But asked if British troops could be sent to the Middle Eastern country, the spokesman replied: "That is just not on the table."
15.56 Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, earlier called on his country's leaders to come together to face "the serious, mortal" threat:
The response has to be soon. There has to be a quick response to what has happened.
15.52Samarra is home to a revered Shia shrine that was bombed in 2006, sparking a sectarian conflict between Iraq's Shia majority and Sunni Arab minority that left tens of thousands dead.
The city lies just 110 kilometres (70 miles) north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad on the main highway from second city Mosul where jihadists launched their offensive late on Monday.
15.41 Officials said earlier that 15 security personnel in Kirkuk province were executed by ISIS forces.
15.33 Security forces are battling militants near the town of Samarra, police tell AFP.
Iraqi families fleeing violence in the northern Nineveh province are given water as they gather at a Kurdish checkpoint in Aski kalak, 40 kms West of Arbil, in the autonomous Kurdistan region
15.24 Save the Children’s Acting Country Director in Iraq, Aram Shakaram, has described the refugees fleeing the ISIS takeover of northern Iraq as "one of the largest and swiftest mass movements of people in the world in recent memory":
As terrified families and children flee violence in Mosul, we are witnessing one of the largest and swiftest mass movements of people in the world in recent memory. This shocking escalation of violence is forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee for their lives towards the Kurdistan region.
Massive traffic jams and blocked roads are seriously hindering access and movement of aid, as hundreds of thousands flee from the raging violence and chaos. The most vulnerable families are those left behind and it’s extremely difficult to reach them right now as the violence continues. We are also extremely concerned over how the Kurdistan region of Iraq will cope with the influx.
Save the Children is on the ground working with refugees and displaced people in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. As an immediate emergency priority, we will distribute water, food and hygiene kits to people fleeing Mosul in coordination with local authorities and organisations responding to the crisis.
An image grab taken from a propaganda video uploaded on 11 June 2014 by jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) allegedly shows ISIS militants gathering at an undisclosed location in Iraq's Nineveh province
The FBI “most wanted” mugshot shows a tough, swarthy figure, his hair in a jailbird crew-cut. The $10 million price on his head, meanwhile, suggests that whoever released him from US custody four years ago may now be regretting it.
Taken during his years as a detainee at the US-run Camp Bucca in southern Iraq, this is the only known photograph of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the new leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria. But while he may lack the photogenic qualities of his hero, Osama bin Laden, he is fast becoming the new poster-boy for the global jihadist movement.
Well-organised and utterly ruthless, the ex-preacher is the driving force behind al-Qaeda’s resurgence throughout Syria and Iraq, putting it at the forefront of the war to topple President Bashar al-Assad and starting a fresh campaign of mayhem against the Western-backed government in Baghdad.
15.05 Police brigadier general tells AFP that the militants attacked from the north, west and south of the city, and that they were from ISIS.
The militants had apparently freed some 300 inmates from a prison in the city.
ISIS is spearheading a spectacular offensive that began late on Monday and has since overrun all of Nineveh province and its capital Mosul as well as parts of Kirkuk to its southeast and Salaheddin to its south.
14.50 Iraqi police have now confirmed that Tikrit has fallen to militants - police colonel tells AFP: "All of Tikrit is in the hands of the militants."
Burning vehicles belonging to Iraqi security forces are seen during clashes between Iraqi security forces and al Qaeda-linked ISIS in Mosul (PHOTO: Reuters)
14.43 In Mosul, black banner-waving insurgents have raided government buildings, pushed out security forces and captured military vehicles as residents fled for their lives. Atheel al-Nujaifi, the Ninevah provincial governor, has claimed authorities have "taken practical steps in order to restore order", but reports from the ground suggest militants are firmly in control. he said:
Mosul is capable of getting back on its feet and getting rid of all the outsiders ... and we have a plan to restore security. We have taken practical steps in order to restore order ... by mobilizing people into public committees that would retake the city.
14.40 Militants are battling Iraqi security forces in the central city ofTikrit, officials said. Jihadists have seized a swathe of the north, after taking Iraq's second city Mosul on Tuesday.
14.30 Follow our live blog of developments in northern Iraq, where Isis forces have now taken control of Tikrit as well as Mosul, and mass beheadings are being reported.