Speed Reads

foreign affairs

Is Iraq heading toward civil war?

Sunni insurgents on Wednesday dramatically expanded their offensive in Iraq, creeping closer to Baghdad and seizing control of Saddam Hussein's hometown, Tikrit. On the same day, militants from the group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria overran the Turkish consulate in Mosul and kidnapped several dozen staffers and diplomats.

The developments came shortly after the same forces captured parts of northern and western Iraq — including Mosul, the nation's second-largest city — causing thousands of government soldiers to abandon their weapons and flee.

The gravest concern Iraq's shaky government faced following the American troop withdrawal at the end of 2011 was whether it was adequately prepared to defend itself. The crisis is testing that question in an extremely dire way, and threatening to plunge the nation into a full-blown civil war like the one rocking neighboring Syria.