The al-Qaida-inspired group that led this week's charge in capturing two key cities in Iraq vowed Thursday to march on to Baghdad, raising fears about the government's ability to slow the assault following lightning gains.
Signs emerged that the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant is backed in its campaign by former military officers and other members of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein's regime - including a force led by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the late leader's former deputy who escaped the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and eluded U.S. and Iraqi forces ever since.
As world leaders expressed alarm over the destabilization of large parts of the country by fighters from the militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the U.N. Security Council met on the crisis, but there is little prospect of any action by the body.
President Barack Obama said Iraq will need more help from the United States, but he did not specify what it would be willing to provide. Senior U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter by name said Washington is considering whether to conduct drone missions in Iraq.
In the north, Kurdish security forces took over an air base and other posts abandoned by the Iraqi military in ethnically mixed Kirkuk, a senior official with the Kurdish forces said. He denied they had taken over the oil-rich city.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asked parliament this week to declare a state of emergency that would give him increased powers to run the country, but the lawmakers Thursday failed to assemble a quorum to do so.
The Islamic State aims to create an Islamic emirate spanning both sides of the Iraq-Syria border. It has been able to push deep into parts of the Iraqi Sunni heartland once controlled by U.S. forces because police and military forces melted away after relatively brief clashes.
Two senior intelligence officials told The Associated Press that an armed group led by al-Douri, the Naqshabandi Army, and other Saddam-era military figures joined the Islamic State in the fight. In Saddam's hometown of Tikrit that was overrun by militants Wednesday, witnesses said fighters raised posters of Saddam and al-Douri. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.