Group claims mass killings of Iraqi troops, as Shia volunteers respond to cleric's call to arms and army launches counter-offensive north of Baghdad
• Blair: 2003 invasion did not cause current crisis
• Iraq government: we have killed 279 terrorists
• Six volunteers killed amid Shia militia recruitment drive
• Iraqi army claims Isis surge halted
• What is Isis?
Latest13.54 The recruitment of volunteer Shia fighters to take on Isis appears to be gathering pace, as images emerge of new volunteers flashing victory signs as they leave a recruitment centre in central Baghdad.
New volunteers leave an Iraqi security recruitment centre in central Baghdad (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP)
"Policies of sectarianism and monopolisation of power that have been followed by Maliki... have led Iraq to the brink of a devastating civil war," Alriyadh newspaper wrote.
Maliki, who is from the country's majority Shia population, has been accused of alienating Iraq's Sunni and Kurdish minorities.
As Ruth Sherlock reported (see 11.55) many Sunnis in the country's newly militant-occupied north have welcomed the arrival of Sunni militants Isis, despite their widely reported gruesome slaughter of civilians and troops:
In the Sunni dominated city, the removal of the Iraqi army by ISIS has been interpreted as a local victory; as a means of empowering Mosul residents against Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Shia dominated national government who they feel has kept their people “oppressed”.
However, predominently Sunni Saudi Arabia has a history of strained relations with Iraq's Iran-backed Shia prime minister Maliki.
In March, Maliki accused the kingdom and neighbouring Qatar of supporting terrorism, a charge that drew harsh criticism from Riyadh.
13.30 Iraqi security forces have killed 279 "terrorists" within the last 24 hours as the government's counter-offensive against Isis militants gathers pace, the prime minister's security spokesman has claimed.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's security spokesman, Lieutenant General Qassem Atta, made the announcement during a televised news conference.
Isis is believed to have no more than 12,000 fighters in Iraq in total.
The development comes as Maliki's security forces and allied militias regained some territory on Saturday and early Sunday, easing part of the pressure on his Shi'ite-led government, and officials said they were regaining the initiative. Maliki has vowed to rout the insurgents.
But in less positive news for the Iraqi government, Sunni militants launched a dawn raid on Tal Afar, a town close to the Syrian border in the country's previously less-affected northwest, clashing with police and government forces.
"The situation is disastrous in Tal Afar. There is crazy fighting and most families are trapped inside houses, they can't leave town," a local official said. "If the fighting continues, a mass killing among civilians could result."
12.45 Lakhdar Brahimi, the former peace envoy who resigned in May as the UN-Arab League mediator for Syria, has lent his support to Tony Blair's claim this morning (see 10.55) that the unrest sweeping Iraq is a direct result of the world's indifference to the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
"It is a well known rule: a conflict of this kind [in Syria] cannot stay confined within the borders of one country," Brahimi said.
The international community "unfortunately neglected the Syrian problem and did not help to resolve it. This is the result," he said.
Mr Brahimi briefly served as UN special envoy for Iraq in 2004, following the US-led invasion that toppled the regime of dictator Saddam Hussein.
Iraqi men being led to an open field moments before militants shoot them (AP)
12.38 Reports are emerging of a suicide bomb blast in central Baghdad which killed at least nine people and injured 20.
According to police and medical sources the suicide blast was carried out by an attacker wearing an explosive vest near Tahrir Square in the centre of the city.
12.34 Here is our lunchtime wrap of events in Iraq so far today, where the Iraqi army appears to have halted the Isis advance outside the holy town of Samarra, about 60 miles north-west of Baghdad.
From here, the security forces have mounted a counter-attack, retaking some towns and villages nearby.
They have also been using their advantage in air power, sending helicopter gunships to attack ISIS positions. However, one such strike hit a convoy of Kurdish fighters on Saturday night, killing six dead. It was not clear whether this was intentional, or simply a case of mistaken identity.
12.13 As at 11.15, Isis has posted photos online that appear to show its fighters shooting dead dozens of captured Iraqi soldiers in a province north of the capital Baghdad.
The pictures on a militant website, which have yet to be conclusively verified, appear to show masked fighters loading captives onto flatbed trucks before forcing them to lie face-down in a shallow ditch with their arms tied behind their backs.
Photographs published by Isis militants purpotedly showing the execution of dozens of captured Iraqi security forces members in Salaheddin province, north of Baghdad
The final images, which are to graphic to publish, appear to show the bodies of the captives soaked in blood after being shot.
Iraq's top military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, confirmed the photos' authenticity on Sunday and said he was aware of cases of mass murder of captured Iraqi soldiers, according to AP.
Most of the soldiers who appear in the pictures are in civilian clothes. Some are shown wearing military uniforms underneath, indicating they may have hastily disguised themselves as civilians to try to escape.
Many soldiers and policemen left their uniforms and equipment behind as the militants swept into Mosul, Tikrit and surrounding areas.
The captions did not provide a date or location, but al-Moussawi said the killings took place in Salahuddin province, the capital of which is Tikrit.
12.05 Iraqi government forces as well as the Western world were caught by surprise by the insurgents' dramatic push south last week.
But according to Alex Bilger, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, Isis have long been “functioning as a military rather than as a terrorist network”, with this week's offensive the culmination of years of planning.
“What we see in Iraq today is in many ways a culmination of what the I.S.I. has been trying to accomplish since its founding in 2006,” Mr Bilger told the New York Times, referring to Isis's predecessor organisation the Islamic State in Iraq.
As the newspaper points out, top army intelligence official, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, told US Congress in February that the group “probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014.”
11.55 Ruth Sherlock is in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, where Kurdish forces have seized control of one the two official border crossings with Syria after Iraqi forces withdrew.
As she reports in the below video dispatch, tens of thousands of refugees from the militant-held city of Mosul are now returning home in spite of the ongoing violence.
The Kurds have at the same time joined the fight against the militants, who have taken over all of one province and chunks of three more since they launched their assault late on Monday.
11.35 Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most repected Shia cleric, has called upon followers to take up arms for the counter-attack against insurgents north of Baghdad.
“Citizens who are able to bear arms and fight terrorists, defending their country and their people and their holy places, should volunteer and join the security forces to achieve this holy purpose,” he said.
“He who sacrifices for the cause of defending his country and his family and his honour will be a martyr.”
According to reports, hundreds of young Iraqi men have arrived at volunteer centres in Baghdad today as a result of the call to arms, with many ferried by bus to training bases in the eastern part of the city.
They are expected to link up with the official army forces around Samarra, where government forces have begun to regain territory from the jihadists.
11.15 The United Nations says it has received reports of multiple mass executions of soldiers and civilians in Mosul, including an unconfirmed claim that Isis militants massacred 1,700 soldiers captured at a former US military base.
Unverified images posted to a militant website last night appear to show Iraqi men being rounded up at gunpoint by Isis militants before being executed.
Captions say the killings were to avenge the death of an Islamic state commander.
11.00 On the ground in Iraq today, the Iraqi army have begun a fightback against Isis, the jihadist rebels who have captured vast swathes of territory. Thousands of Shia volunteers have answered a call from their religious leader to protect holy shrines.
Robert Tait, our Middle East Correspondent, has this report:
After days of rapid advances by the radical and feared Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) movement, military commanders said they had halted the advance in which militant forces captured a series of northern towns and cities and moved towards Baghdad.
The army’s assertion followed an apparent coded offer from Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, to the US for the two nations to work together to defeat ISIS, an al-Qaeda offshoot intent in establishing a medieval-style caliphate.
Mr Rouhani, a comparative moderate elected last year, told a news conference in Tehran that Iran would “consider” cooperating with the US if it acted to defeat “terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere”.
In Iraq, Maj Gen Qassim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for the military’s commander-in-chief, promised to recapture all rebel-held areas, including Mosul, the nation’s second city, which was overrun last Monday. The fall of the city prompted the flight of 500,000 refugees and fears that Iraq faced a return to the violence that followed the US-led invasion more than a decade ago.
10.55 Tony Blair spoke to the BBC's Andrew Marr this morning, responding to criticism that this week's events in Iraq are traceable to the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 orchestrated by Blair and George W Bush.
He claimed that the violent insurgency in Iraq is the result of the West's failure to intervene in Syria, not of the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
Mr Blair said: "Even if you'd left Saddam in place in 2003, then when 2011 happened, and you had the Arab revolutions going through Tunisia and Libya and Yemen and Bahrain and Egypt and Syria, you would have still had a major problem in Iraq.
"Indeed, you can see what happens when you leave the dictator in place, as has happened with Assad now. The problems don't go away."
He added: "So, one of the things I'm trying to say is, you know, we can rerun the debates about 2003, and there are perfectly legitimate points on either side but where we are now in 2014, we have to understand this is a regional problem, but it's a problem that will affect us."
10.45 Good morning and welcome to our live blog of the crisis in Iraq. We will be bringing you the latest developments throughout the day, as Iraqi government forces respond to the militant offensive of the past week in the north of the country.
You can read yesterday's developments here: Iraq crisis: ISIS battles for Baghdad - June 14 as it happened