BRUSSELS (AP) — Germany urged its citizens to leave Baghdad and troubled parts of Iraq on Thursday, as European officials calibrated their response to a military push by Sunni Muslim insurgents toward the capital after capturing two key cities.
Western officials were consulting over a deteriorating security situation in the embattled Middle Eastern country, with the cities of Mosul and Tikrit falling into the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant over the last two days.
Germany's Foreign Ministry called on Germans in Iraq, who number in the thousands, to leave the governorates of Anbar, Ninevah and Salah al-Din, and temporarily leave Baghdad. It also expressed concern about the situation in Diyala and Kirkuk governorates.
"The fighting threatens to plunge not just Iraq but the entire region, which has been knocked out of balance by the war in Syria, further into violence and chaos," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told German daily Bild.
Britain and France said it was up to Iraqi authorities to deal with terrorism and worsening security, while Russia's foreign minister said the crisis pointed to "total failure" of the U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq in 2003. NATO's top official said the alliance had no request or mandate to act in Iraq.
"I don't see a role for NATO in Iraq," NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during a visit to Madrid. Foreign Secretary William Hague of Britain — the biggest spender on defense in Western Europe — too ruled out any British military role. He said Britain was consulting closely with the United States and will support any U.S. decision on coping with the crisis, and floated the possibility of British humanitarian aid to refugees who were displaced in recent days
"We're looking at that now," Hague told the BBC in an interview. "But we will not be getting involved militarily." French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has begun "a series of consultations on this matter with his main counterparts," ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said, adding that France "fully supports the Iraqi state in this fight" against terrorists. Spain, which unlike France participated in the 2003 invasion, called on Iraqi leaders to unite "against the serious threats overshadowing the country," the Spanish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Iraq's ambassador to France, Fareed Yassin, urged the international community to rally to the support of his country's beleaguered government. Speaking on France Inter radio, he listed as Iraq's military requirements "equipment, additional aviation, we need drones, lots of things."
Kristalina Georgieva, aid chief for the European Union, said "a major humanitarian crisis is underway in Iraq," with an estimated half-million people fleeing their homes. The EU recently opened a humanitarian office in Irbil, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Mosul, funded with €3 million ($4.1 million) to help people who fled fighting in Anbar in March.
"In the coming days the full extent of this new humanitarian crisis will become clearer and the European Commission stands ready to offer further assistance," Georgieva said in a statement. The latest crisis stemmed from factors including "the alienation of the beleaguered Sunni Arab population, a state of generalized violence, opportunistic armed opposition groups and a spillover effect from the terrible war raging in Syria."
A totally different read on the situation came from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said the rapid advances by the al-Qaida-inspired fighters proved that the military invasion of Iraq 11 years ago had been a fiasco.
"What is happening in Iraq is an illustration of the total failure of the adventure undertaken primarily by the U.S. and Britain and which they have let slip completely out of control," Lavrov was quoted by Russian state news agencies as saying.
Lavrov said Russia had long warned that the intervention would not end well, and now fears that the unity of Iraq is at risk.
Jordans reported from Berlin. AP correspondents Elaine Ganley in Paris, Lynn Berry in Moscow, Gregory Katz in London and Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, contributed to this report.