BAGHDAD (AP) — Dozens of militants have overrun the provincial government headquarters in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, dealing a serious blow to Baghdad's efforts to control a widening insurgency in the country, a provincial official said Tuesday.
The insurgents seized the complex late Monday following days of fighting in the country's second-largest city, a former al-Qaida stronghold situated in what has long been one of the more restive parts of Iraq.
The fighters are believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaida splinter group that is behind the bulk of the bloody attacks in Iraq and is among the most ruthless rebel forces fighting to topple President Bashar Assad in neighboring Syria.
Several residents reported seeing the gunmen hoisting the black flags inscribed with the Islamic declaration of flags that are used by ISIL, al-Qaida and other jihadist groups. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
Mosul is 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, in Ninevah province.
Ali Mahmoud, the media official for Ninevah province, said insurgents armed with machineguns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers stormed the government building in Mosul late on Monday night.
He said they were able to overpower the building guards after a short firefight.
Provincial governor Atheel al-Nujaifi was in a nearby guest house but managed to escape from the area unharmed, he said. He is the brother of Iraq's parliament speaker, Osama al-Nujaifi.
Earlier, the gunmen torched several of the city's police stations, freeing detainees held in their lockups.
The attack on Mosul comes as Iraq grapples with its worst surge in violence since the sectarian bloodletting of 2006 and 2007.
ISIL insurgents and their allies remain in control of Fallujah and other parts of Anbar province, which neighbors Ninevah province and like it shares a long and loosely controlled border with Syria. The militants have also managed to launch frequent coordinated attacks in the capital, Baghdad, and in other parts of the country.