June 12, 2014 5:53 AM EDT

Militants Take Key Iraqi City in Challenge To Baghdad

Devastating assaults by extremist militants in Iraq have exposed the deterioration of the security situation in the country, with a major city, Iraq’s biggest oil refinery and the hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein all falling out of government control.

Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a group so extreme that it has been disowned by al-Qaeda, seized Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, on June 10 after just four days of fighting. According to officials, Iraqi soldiers threw down their guns and stripped off their uniforms as the insurgents made their final approach. Soon, ISIS had extended its control to the Baiji oil refinery, the country’s largest. On June 11 came news that the militants had also seized Tikrit, Saddam’s birthplace, less than 100 miles north of the capital, Baghdad. Along the way, the predominately Sunni Muslim militants were reported to have looted banks and captured arms and military equipment, some of it American-made and intended for Iraqi security forces. The U.S. said it would provide the Iraqi government with “all appropriate assistance” as it fights back against ISIS.

The gains by the militants speak volumes about the state of Iraqi forces 2½ years after the U.S. military left the country, having spent $1.7 trillion and lost nearly 4,500 American lives over nine years. The battle between the Sunni insurgents and the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad also threatens to worsen sectarian divisions, with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government seen as favoring Iraq’s Shi’ite majority.

Responding to the fall of Mosul, al-Maliki asked the parliament to declare a state of emergency and promised to “reorganize the armed forces” and challenge ISIS. But with the militants continuing to make gains after he spoke, the future for Iraq looked decidedly grim.

ITALY

‘My presence here is not up to me. It’s thanks to the man upstairs!’

SISTER CRISTINA SCUCCIA, a Sicilian nun, after winning The Voice of Italy’s singing contest on June 6; Scuccia, whose version of Alicia Keys’ “No One” has garnered more than 52 million views on YouTube, celebrated her win by reciting the Lord’s Prayer onstage

DATA

WOMEN IN BUSINESS

A study funded by Dell compared conditions in 30 countries to determine the best places for female entrepreneurs. Below is a sample of the rankings:

[This article consists of 5 illustrations. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

1

U.S.

6

Chile

11

China

18

Russia

30

Pakistan

SOURCE: GLOBAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND DEVELOPMENT INSTITUTE

Three Essential Facts About

The Controversy Over Qatar’s World Cup Bid

As the 2014 World Cup gets under way in Brazil on June 12, FIFA, the international soccer federation responsible for the tournament, is facing pressure from key corporate sponsors to fully investigate new claims that Qatar was improperly awarded the honor of hosting the 2022 World Cup.

THE ALLEGATIONS

On the basis of leaked documents, London’s Sunday Times alleged that Mohamed bin Hammam, a former FIFA executive-committee member and Qatari national, made millions of dollars in payments to secure the 2022 games for the tiny Middle Eastern state. Qatar denies the claims.

THE INVESTIGATION

Before the new documents emerged, FIFA’s ethics investigator, Michael Garcia, was already looking into the bidding process to determine whether there was any wrongdoing in the way the venue for the World Cup was decided. He is expected to submit a full report on the matter to the body in mid-July.

THE FALLOUT

With hundreds of millions of dollars in sponsorship money on the line–sponsors like Adidas and Coca-Cola have expressed concern about the controversy–the body could, in theory, decide to switch the venue for 2022. Qatar was already a controversial choice for its extreme hot weather and reliance on migrant labor.

A Prayer for Peace

VATICAN CITY

Pope Francis shakes hands with Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, during a prayer meeting that also included Israeli President Shimon Peres, left. The Pope proposed the gathering, which the Vatican billed as a “pause from politics,” during his three-day visit to the Middle East in May, weeks after the collapse of U.S.-backed peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The Explainer

The Political Battle Over the European Union’s Top Job

A controversy has broken out over the appointment of the next President of the European Commission, the executive arm of the E.U., with the U.K. and Germany divided over who should hold the most powerful job in Brussels. The commission upholds laws and guides the day-to-day administration of the 28-country bloc.

Leading Man

The EPP coalition, which won the most votes in the recent European elections, has put forward former Luxembourg PM Jean-Claude Juncker. But he still needs the backing of national leaders.

His Backers

Juncker is helped by new rules that require national leaders to take the election results into account when filling the post. He also has the backing of Germany’s Angela Merkel.

His Critics

Juncker’s support for more political integration across the E.U. is opposed by, among others, Britain’s David Cameron, who has spoken out against him. A decision is expected at the end of June.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

1,416

Number of times, according to claims made by China, that Vietnamese vessels have rammed Chinese ships in disputed waters; relations between the two nations have soured since China stationed an oil rig in the area in early May

Trending In

+

NEGOTIATIONS

Colombia said it is starting peace talks with ELN, the country’s second largest rebel group, after the FARC, with some 3,000 fighters

JUSTICE

A Russian court sentenced five men to 12 years to life in prison for the 2006 murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya

CRIME

Three inmates escaped from a Canadian prison using a helicopter that picked them up from the courtyard

TERRORISM

Taliban militants stormed the airport in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, in an assault that left more than 30 people dead, including all 10 attackers

This appears in the June 23, 2014 issue of TIME.

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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