As an al-Qaida offshoot makes advances in Iraq and government forces push back against the militants to reassert control over cities, the flurry of fighting in the country has made it difficult for the casual observer to discern who is in control of a particular area or region.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and the Kurdish peshmerga force between them now control large swathes of the country's north and northeast. The Institute for the Study of War, or ISW, a non-profit, public policy research organization, has produced this “Control of Terrain in Iraq” map dated Thursday that distinctly marks areas based on who was controlling them on that day.
In addition to the map, Agence France-Presse has an update on the status of seven key cities in Iraq as of Friday morning:
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Iraq's second-biggest city was the first to fall in the swift Sunni militant offensive. Capital of Nineveh province, Mosul is held by insurgents led by the [ISIS] jihadist group. Hundreds of thousands of residents have fled the city of two million. There are conflicting reports about those who stayed behind, with some claiming they are chafing under strict Islamic law imposed by the jihadists while others say they have welcomed the militants.
The second provincial capital captured after Mosul and hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussein. Militants seized the city in Salaheddin province and freed hundreds of prisoners as they pushed their advance south. Iraqi forces launched air strikes targeting militants holed up in a palace compound where Saddam once received foreign guests.
Militants briefly controlled three areas of Baquba, the confessionally-mixed capital of restive Diyala province, just 35 miles north of Baghdad, but were repelled by security forces. During the violence, 44 prisoners in a police station were killed, but accounts conflict over who was responsible for the deaths.
After protracted clashes with militants, who held parts of Iraq's biggest oil refinery near Baiji, north of Baghdad in Salaheddin province, security forces wrested back full control of the facility on Thursday. The crisis, however, has further spooked international oil traders who are keeping a close eye on the militant offensive and its potential impact on Iraq's vast crude exports.
The ethnically mixed oil city of Kirkuk is the capital of the eponymous northern province. It has changed hands in the course of the offensive. Forces from autonomous the Kurdish region took control of it after federal troops quit the area. The city is the heart of a swathe of disputed territory which the Kurds have long wanted to incorporate into their region, over Baghdad's strong objections.
Home to the revered Shiite Al-Askari shrine, whose 2006 bombing sparked a bloody Sunni-Shiite sectarian war, Samarra has been attacked by militants but did not fall. Baghdad has sent reinforcements to the city, and said it aims to use it as a launchpad for operations to retake areas farther north.
Though militants have not been able to encroach on Baghdad, the mood in the capital has been tense. Security forces have taken on an increased presence, while Shiite militias are openly operating. Counter-terrorism forces were recently deployed to west Baghdad because of fears of "terrorist sleeper cells". A long-held overnight curfew on movement in the capital has been extended in some areas.