Sunni insurgents led by Al-Qaeda offshoot ISIL have captured two strategic towns in western Iraq and the first border crossing with Syria.
The capture by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant of Rawah on the Euphrates River and the nearby town of Anah in Anbar province on June 21 appeared to be part of march toward a key dam in the city of Haditha, which has a hydraulic power station.
Militants were also reportedly in full control of the Al-Qaim border crossing with Syria.
Also on June 21, thousands of Shi'ite fighters loyal to the influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr staged a parade through Baghdad.
The show of force of fighters accompanied by military hardware is likely to raise sectarian tensions at at time when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government is under pressure to rally the country together against the extremists.