A growing sense of panic was gripping Iraq last night as the al-Qaeda uprising in the country’s north led to US contractors being evacuated from the region and European countries ordering their citizens to leave Baghdad.

With militants threatening to advance on the capital, signs emerged of diplomats making preparations to leave the country in the event of civil war erupting.

Three planes carrying American diplomats and contractors stationed at a training mission at an Iraqi airbase in Balad, north of Baghdad, flew out amid fears that the base could be surrounded by the militants. Germany ordered all its citizens to leave the Iraqi capital, as did Turkey, which has already had 80 people kidnapped by the militants, including the consul to the northern city of Mosul.

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