Islamic State leader calls for jihad in audio message

The leader of the Islamic State, formerly Isis, has released the first audiotape calling for jihad since the group renamed. The group is currently battling Iraqi forces across large parts of the country.

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Russia expresses concern to Assad over Isis fighters

Syrian President Bashar Assad has held talks with Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov in Damascus.

At a news conference earlier in the day, Ryabkov expressed his concerns about the spread of militant groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (R) meets Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Damascus Credit: Reuters

He said a united effort, working with the United States and its allies in Europe, was needed to combat the threat posed by such insurgents. Ryabkov also met Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.

Moscow, which is trying to raise its diplomatic and economic influence in the Middle East, has given Assad crucial support during the three-year civil war and blocked wider Western attempts to punish him with sanctions for the use of force against civilians.

Iraqi forces strike back at Isis fighters

Helicopter gunships supported Iraqi government forces as they began an offensive to retake the northern city of Tikrit from Islamist militants.

Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant who have taken over Tikrit. Credit: Press Association

Troops were trying to advance on the city from the city of Samarra, a city to the south of Tikrit but around an hour's drive to the north of Baghdad.

The city has become the military's line in the sand against the advancing ISIL fighters.

Helicopter also gunships fired at targets in Tikrit and Isis fighters abandoned the city's governorate building, security sources said. More government troops had been air-dropped in a pocket just north of the city.

Iraqi military spokesman Qassim Atta told reporters in Baghdad that 29 "terrorists" were killed in Tikrit on Friday and that militant commanders were struggling because, "their morale has started to collapse."

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Pentagon: US armed drones flying over Baghdad

The US has armed drones flying over Baghdad to protect US troops that recently arrived to assess Iraq's deteriorating security, the Pentagon said.

The decision to arm some of the drones follows the deployment to Baghdad of troops who will advise and assist Iraqi counter-terrorism forces.

A family, who fled from the violence in Mosul, arrives at the Khazer refugee camp on the outskirts of Arbi Credit: Reuters

"The reason that some of those aircraft are armed is primarily for force protection reasons now that we have introduced into the country some military advisers whose objective will be to operate outside the confines of the embassy," the defence department's press secretary said.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff chair, General Martin Dempsey, said: "We're flying a great deal (of) manned and unmanned ... intelligence and reconnaissance assets, and we're building a picture so that if the decision were made to support the Iraqi security forces as they confront (ISIS), we could do so."

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William Hague urges unity in Iraq to defeat Isis

The Foreign Secretary William Hague has called for politicians in Iraq to put aside sectarian differences to confront the "existential" threat from Isis led Sunni fighters.

Mr Hague is due to meet with Shia prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and other key figures. Arriving in Baghdad he said:

The single most important factor that will determine whether or not Iraq overcomes this challenge is political unity.

As a friend of Iraq, the UK believes the urgent priority must be to form an inclusive government that can command the support of all Iraqi people and work to stop Isis in its tracks.

Isis is a brutal terrorist group that is alien to this country, to the Middle East, and to the Islamic faith. It is a mortal threat to the stability and territorial integrity of Iraq, but the danger does not stop here: Isis poses a direct threat to other countries in this region.

Three Iraqi army helicopters land in rebel-held Tikrit

Three Iraq Air Force helicopters landed inside the university stadium of rebel-controlled Tikrit city, security sources said, as the army attempts to fight the Sunni militants that have taken control of large parts of the north of the country.

Video: Iraq army soldiers captured in Tikrit

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said fighting centred around the university compound. Tikrit in northern Iraq fell to Sunni insurgents on June 12

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