NATO foreign ministers will convene to discuss the Iraq crisis after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pledged "intense" backing to Baghdad in the fight against Sunni-led insurgents pushing toward the capital.
Kerry, who is expected to attend the two-day meeting in Brussels, made a surprise visit to Iraq on June 23, meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders.
Kerry, speaking at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone, said American support "will be intense, sustained," but called for political unity.
Meanwhile, militants led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an Al-Qaeda offshoot, seized the strategic Shi'ite-majority town of Tal Afar in the north.
There were also unconfirmed reports that ISIS-led fighters have seized the Baiji oil refinery, Iraq's largest.
Iraqi security forces retook the Al-Walid border crossing with Syria after militants withdrew.
The militants who are fighting government forces also include Sunni tribal fighters who say they are disgruntled and alienated by Maliki’s governance, which has given Shi’ites a larger stake of power than Sunnis.
Kerry, who met with the Iraqi leadership at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, said Maliki, a Shi'ite, reaffirmed his commitment to form a new government by July 1.
He said the Iraqi leaders face a "moment of decision" and must stand united against militants from ISIL who have seized large swaths of territory across western and northern Iraq.
The United States has pledged some 300 military advisers to help Iraqi government forces, but Washington has said U.S. troops would not engage in combat operations against ISIL.
Since the weekend, the Sunni militants have been consolidating their advances in the western province of Anbar and in areas north of Baghdad.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP