BAGHDAD, June 22 (Xinhua) -- World powers are deadlocked over a deteriorating situation in Iraq, as Sunni insurgents, spearheaded by an al-Qaida breakaway group, advanced in a western province on Saturday and seized the first border crossing with Syria.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has scored sweeping victories across the country, overrunning several major cities in northwest and central Iraq, including the second city Mosul. They seized weaponry and looted banks while advancing.
It is worrying that the fighting, with ever stronger sectarian overtones, might be pushing the country towards a civil war.
BORDER CROSSING SEIZED
In the predominantly Sunni Anbar province, west of Baghdad, the al-Qaida breakaway group captured three strategic towns of al-Qaim, Rawah and Anah, according to security sources.
The sunni militants seized a large part of al-Qaim, a key city near the Syrian border, after fierce clashes with security forces on Saturday.
Al-Qaim and Albukamal on the Syrian side of the border are on a strategic supply route.
Syrian troops backed by allied tribesmen on Friday foiled an attack by the Sunni militants on the city, but the militants managed to seize large parts of the city earlier Saturday morning, a police source told Xinhua.
Some also feared that by seizing Rawah and Anah, the militants may be aimed at a key dam in Haditha city, which accommodates a hydraulic power station with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts. Its destruction would take a toll on Iraq's electrical supply and even trigger major flooding.
More than 2,000 troops were sent there to protect the dam.
As a sign of widening division, the Shiite held military-style parades in show of force on streets of several Iraqi cities, including the capital Baghdad.
The fighting has displaced tens of thousands of people and disrupted traffic.
PRIME MINISTER IN TROUBLE
The lightning offensive by Sunni militants has put Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki under growing pressure to form an inclusive government or step down.
Many have blamed the Shiite prime minister, who was criticized to become increasingly sectarian, for contributing to probably the worst crisis since the United States pulled back its troops at the end of 2001.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in Iraq, called on al-Maliki to reach out to the Kurdish and Sunni minorities.
The usually seclusive cleric said it is imperative to form an effective government that has broad national support, avoiding past mistakes and opening "new horizons toward a better future for all Iraqis."
The United States has long criticized al-Maliki for not giving the country's Sunni minority a greater role in the Shiite-dominated government. Several leading U.S. lawmakers even called for his resignation.
Al-Maliki's State of Law Coalition won 95 seats out of the 328 seats in parliament in April election, falling short of a majority needed to form the next government. The bloc must first form a majority coalition in the legislature.