Sunni militants have seized more towns in western Iraq, as well as two more strategic border crossings -- into Syria and Jordan -- in their latest advances against Iraqi government forces.
Fighters from an Al-Qaeda splinter group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, aka ISIS), have also reportedly pushed into parts of Haditha, a town in the western province of Anbar where Iraq's second-largest hydroelectric power dam is located.
Government troops were deployed at the dam on June 22 to try to stop it from being captured by militants.
ISIL fighters on June 22 also entered the town of Rutba on the main highway leading to Iraq's westernmost borders with Jordan and Syria.
They also seized the Al-Walid crossing on the Iraq-Syria border and Turaibil on the Jordanian border on June 22, a day after militants took control of the towns of Rawah and Ana and the Al-Qaim border crossing.
The government in Baghdad said its forces had made a "tactical" withdrawal from the towns.
The Sunni militants are led by ISIL but also include Sunni tribal militia fighters who say they are disgruntled and alienated by Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's governance.
Their latest gains have opened a strategic supply route into neighboring Syria, where ISIL also controls swaths of territory along the Euphrates River.
That supply route includes a highway and railroad link and the Al-Qaim train station on the Iraqi side of the border.
The advances also allow militants to consolidate other recent territorial gains they have made in Iraq's western Anbar Province, putting them into a position where they can put military pressure on the Shi'ite cities of Karbala and Najaf just to the south.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on June 22 began a Middle East tour that is expected to include a visit to Iraq.
Speaking in Cairo on June 22, Kerry said Washington wanted the Iraqi people to find leadership that was prepared to represent all Iraqis.
But Kerry insisted that the United States will not choose the leadership in Baghdad.
He also rejected charges that the United States is responsible for Iraq's escalating sectarian crisis.
He said what is happening in Iraq today is the result of the "terrorist designs on the state of Iraq" by the Sunni-led ISIL.
Kerry urged Iraqi leaders to rise above "sectarian considerations."
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa