Sunni insurgents from an al Qaeda splinter group extended their control from the northern city of Mosul on Wednesday to an area further south that includes Iraq's biggest oil refinery in a devastating show of strength against the Shi'ite-led government.
Security sources said militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) - Sunni militants waging sectarian war on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian frontier - drove into the town of Baiji late on Tuesday in armed vehicles, torching the court house and police station after freeing prisoners.
The militants offered safe passage to some 250 men guarding the refinery on the outskirts of Baiji, about 200 kilometers south of Mosul, on condition they leave.
Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari called on his country's leaders to come together to face "the serious, mortal" threat. "The response has to be soon. There has to be a quick response to what has happened," he said during a trip to Greece.