Flying in from Jordan on a visit which the State Department had sought to keep secret amid security concerns, Kerry met Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and was to hold talks with Iraqi leaders across the political and communal spectrum.

Kerry "will discuss US actions underway to assist Iraq as it confronts this threat from ISIL and urge Iraqi leaders to move forward as quickly as possible with its government formation process to forge a government," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said ahead of the meetings.

The militants, led by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), consolidated their control of the north of the country by capturing the Shiite-majority town of Tal Afar and its airport, a local official and witnesses said.

"The town of Tal Afar and the airport... are completely under the control of the militants," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Witnesses said security forces had departed the town after days of heavy fighting, and confirmed that militants were in control.

The latest advance came after insurgents at the weekend swept into the towns of Rawa and Ana in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, after taking the Al-Qaim border crossing with Syria.

READ MORE:Indians in Iraq safe, trying to evacuate them: Government

The government said that its forces made a "tactical" withdrawal from the towns, control of which allows the militants to widen a strategic route to neighbouring Syria where they also hold swathes of countryside along the Euphrates river valley.

As Kerry began his visit, 69 detainees were killed in an attack by militants on a convoy carrying them near the town of Hashimiyah, in Babil province.

ISIL aims to create an Islamic state incorporating both Iraq and Syria, where the group has become a major force in the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.

US wants Arab states to bring pressure on Iraqi leaders to speed up government formation, which has made little headway since April elections, and has tried to convince them ISIL poses as big a threat to them as to Iraq.

Washington's top diplomat warned all countries, particularly in the Gulf, that "there is no safety margin whatsoever in funding a group like ISIL."

The group, which has been at the forefront of the insurgent offensive, has commandeered an enormous quantity of cash and resources as a result of the advance, bolstering coffers that were already the envy of militant groups around the world.

"United States would like to see the Iraqi people find leadership that is prepared to represent all of the people of Iraq," Kerry told reporters in Cairo on Sunday.

He noted that minority Kurds and Sunni Arabs, and even some within Maliki's own Shiite community, had voiced dissatisfaction with the premier's leadership, and said the government had to "rise above sectarian motivations."

Obama has offered to send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq, but has so far not backed air strikes as requested by Baghdad.


Latest News from World News Desk