A photo posted by ISIS on the internet claims mass execution of security forces in the city of Tikrit.
Sunni militants have attacked Iraq's largest oil refinery, located in Baiji, north of Baghdad, with machine-gun and mortar fire, as neighboring Iran vowed to protect Shi'ite Islam's holiest sites in Iraq.
Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), an Al-Qaeda splinter group, have been advancing toward Baghdad, sparking international concern that Iraq might split up along sectarian lines.
The militants have so far overrun Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, and Tikrit, north of Baghdad.
They also took control of most of Tal Afar, a strategic Shi'ite-majority town between Mosul and the border with Syria.
In Tal Afar, militants controlled most of the town but pockets of resistance remained.
Officials said on June 17 that ISIL insurgents briefly held parts of the city of Baquba, just 60 kilometers from Baghdad.
On June 18, Iranian President Hassan Rohani said Tehran would do whatever it takes to protect revered Shi'ite shrines in Karbala, Najaf, Kadhimiyah, and Samarra against ISIL fighters.
Speaking in a live televised address in Khoram-abad, near the Iraq border, Rohani said "Dear Karbala, Dear Najaf, Dear Kadhimiyah and Dear Samarra, we warn the great powers and their lackeys and the terrorists, the great Iranian people will do everything to protect them."
Rohani said many people had signed up to go to Iraq to defend the sites and "put the terrorists in their place."
He added that veteran fighters from Iraq's Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish communities were also "ready for sacrifice" against these militant forces.
Meanwhile, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said on June 18 that the deteriorating security situation in Iraq shows signs of a "civil war."
Iraq's Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appeared on national television on June 17 with Sunni and Kurdish leaders to issue a call for national unity.
The call came after Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders met behind closed doors in Baghdad.
U.S. President Barack Obama is considering military options to push back ISIL. But in return Washington wants Maliki to address concerns of the minority Sunnis, which ISIL has exploited to win support.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Copyright (c) 2014 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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