In further fallout from the crisis, the president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region declared there was no going back on Kurdish self-rule in disputed territory, including ethnically divided northern oil city Kirkuk, now defended against the militants by Kurdish fighters. International agencies also raised alarm bells over the humanitarian consequences of the fighting, with up to 10,000 people having fled a northern Christian town in recent days and 1.2 million displaced by unrest in Iraq this year.
A senior American official said that the US military was flying "a few" armed drones over Baghdad to defend American troops and diplomats in the city if necessary. But officials said the drones would not be used for offensive strikes against the Sunni Arab militant offensive, led by jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) but involving other groups as well. Iraqi forces swooped into Tikrit University by helicopter yesterday, and a police major said that there were periodic clashes there today.
A senior army officer said Iraqi forces were targeting militants in Tikrit with air strikes to protect forces at the university and prepare for an assault on the city. Troops are deployed in areas around Tikrit for the attack, the officer said. Another senior officer said taking the university is an important step towards regaining control of Tikrit, the hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, which the militants seized on June 11.
The operation is the latest effort to regain the initiative after security forces wilted in the face of the initial insurgent onslaught launched on June 9. Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani said today Baghdad could no longer object to Kurdish self-rule in Kirkuk and other towns from which federal forces withdrew in the face of the militant advance.