Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has declared a state of emergency after rebel fighters captured the city of Mosul.
The police and army abandoned their posts on Tuesday after insurgents stormed government headquarters, prisons and television stations. There were reports that the group freed about 1,400 prisoners.
Turkish media also reported that around 30 Turkish lorry drivers were taken hostage by the fighters.
“The seriousness of the security situation needs immediate and swift measures to preserve the national security,” al-Maliki said.
Mosul is Iraq’s second city, situated 200 miles north of Baghdad.
The rebels are believed to be linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaida splinter group. They have been behind most of the attacks in Iraq and are considered to be one of the most ruthless rebel groups in Syria.
Iraqi state television channel, Iraqiya, reported that al-Maliki has asked the United Nations, European Union and Arab League to “support Iraq in its war on terror”.