Obama, who discussed the crisis with his top national security advisers on Monday evening, has made US action contingent on Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's taking steps to broaden his Shi'ite-dominated government.

"The President will continue to consult with his national security team in the days to come," the White House said, without elaborating.

Among those attending the meeting were Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, CIA Director John Brennan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey.

Militants from Iraq and the Levant group have routed Baghdad's army and seized the north of the country in the past week, threatening to dismember Iraq and unleash all-out sectarian warfare with no regard for national borders.

The fighters have been joined by other armed Sunni groups that oppose what they say is oppression by Maliki. UN human rights chief said the forces allied with ISIL had almost certainly committed war crimes by executing hundreds of non-combatant men in Iraq over the past five days.

READ MORE: In touch with Indian nurses trapped in Iraq: Government

US and Iranian officials discussed the crisis in Vienna on the sidelines of separate negotiations about the Iranian nuclear program, the two sides said. Both ruled out military cooperation.

A US official said the talks did not include military coordination and would not make "strategic determinations" over the heads of Iraqis.

"Iran is a great country that can play a key role in restoring stability in Iraq and the region," a senior Iranian official said. But he added,

"Military cooperation was not discussed and is not an option."

Anti-war groups hold a demonstration against a US military intervention in Iraq in front of the White House in Washington

Any joint action between United States and Iran to help prop up their mutual ally in Baghdad would be unprecedented since Shi'ite Iran's 1979 revolution, a sign of the alarm raised by the lightning insurgent advance.

US Secretary of State John Kerry called the advance an "existential threat" for Iraq. When asked if United States could cooperate with Tehran against the insurgents, Kerry told Yahoo News, "I wouldn't rule out anything that would be constructive."

As for airstrikes, he said, "They're not the whole answer, but they may well be one of the options that are important.”

"When you have people murdering, assassinating in these mass massacres, you have to stop that. And you do what you need to do if you need to try to stop it from the air or otherwise,” he said.

Iran has longstanding ties to Maliki and other Shi'ite politicians who came to power in US-backed elections.

Iraqi Shiite tribesmen brandish their weapons as they gather to show their readiness to join Iraqi security forces in the fight against Jihadist militants who have taken over several northern Iraqi cities, on June 16 2014, in the southern Shiite Muslim shrine city of Najaf

Point Man

In Baghdad, Brett McGurk, the State Department’s point man on Iraq and US Ambassador Stephen Beecroft, met with Maliki on Monday, US officials said. The meeting is part of a US effort to prod Maliki to govern in a less sectarian manner. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Obama had not yet decided on political demands to be presented to Maliki.

ISIL seeks a caliphate ruled on medieval Sunni Muslim precepts in Iraq and Syria, fighting against both Iraq's Maliki and Syria's Bashar al-Assad, another ally of Iran. It considers Shi'ites heretics as deserving of death and has boasted of massacring hundreds of Iraqi troops who surrendered to it last week.

Its uprising has been joined by tribal groups and figures from Saddam's era who believe Maliki is hostile to Sunnis.

ISIL fighters and allied Sunni tribesmen overran another town on Monday, Saqlawiya, west of Baghdad, where they captured six Humvees and two tanks.

Witnesses said Iraqi army helicopters were hovering over the town to provide cover for retreating troops.

A security officer said he saw a helicopter that was shot down by an anti-aircraft machine gun. There was no official comment from the government.

Overnight, the fighters captured the city of Tal Afar in northwestern Iraq, solidifying their grip on the north.

"Severe fighting took place, and many people were killed. Shi'ite families have fled to the west and Sunni families have fled to the east," said a city official.

Obama weighing options

Obama, who pulled out all US troops in late 2011, rules out sending them back. The US President is although weighing other options such as airstrikes. A US aircraft carrier has sailed into the Gulf along with a warship carrying 550 marines.

The only US military contingent is the security staff at the US Embassy. Washington is evacuating some diplomatic staff and is sending up to 275 support and military personnel to help safeguard the facilities.

United Nations said it had relocated 58 staff to Jordan.

Potential cooperation between United States and Iran shows how dramatically the ISIL advance has redrawn the map of Middle East alliances in a matter of days.

India closely monitoring situation in Iraq

The Indian government is in ‘regular touch’ with the Indian nationals in Iraq and the 46 nurses who were trapped are safe, the External Affairs Ministry said on Tuesday.

"The Indian ambassador has been in regular touch with the Indians. We have issued an advisory that nobody else should travel to Iraq," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told a news channel.

"At least 46 Indian nurses are in a hospital in Tikrit. Of these, the overwhelming majority would prefer to stay back as they have indicated this to our mission there,” said Akbaruddin.

"We had today (Tuesday) requested the International Red Crescent to go across there and to ensure their (nurses) safety at first hand.

This they have confirmed to us," he added.

Akbaruddin further said, "India is in touch with UN, International Red Cross, Red Crescent, and with the Iraqi government and would advise them on modalities once the situation is slightly better."

A terrorist outfit took over the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit in an attack that took place on Monday threatening the security and territorial integrity of the country.

There are 46 Indian nurses stranded in Tikrit - most of them are from Kerala - and 41 construction workers are in Mosul.

Iraqi displaced children run in an alley of a temporary camp set up to shelter Iraqis fleeing violence on June 16, 2014 in Aski kalak, 40 kms west of the Kurdish autonomous region's capital Arbil.

Bahrain withdraws diplomats from Iraq
 
Bahrain on Monday recalled its envoy from Iraq as Al Qaeda-backed militant groups have consolidated their positions and are moving close to Baghdad.

Bahrain's foreign affairs ministry said in a statement that it has instructed Bahrain's Ambassador to Iraq Salah Al Malki and his staff to leave Iraq immediately as the country is on the brink of a civil war, Xinhua reported.

"The Kingdom of Bahrain has decided to pull its diplomats out of Iraq due to the unfolding security situation," said the statement.

Bahrain authorities have also set up 24-hour hotlines to assist its citizens, especially students who are pursuing religious studies in Iraq.


Turkey provides humanitarian aid to Iraq

Turkey has sent humanitarian aid to the violence-hit cities in Iraq, particularly the Turkish majority areas.

Meanwhile, the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) of Turkey has also started sending humanitarian aid, including tents and food supplies.

Jordan on alert over Iraq violence

Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said the security forces are on alert to protect the country from effects of the ongoing violence in Iraq, media reported.

Meanwhile, Royal Jordanian Airlines announced on Monday that all its flights operating between Jordan and Iraq are running as scheduled, except those to Mosul which has been temporarily suspended since last Tuesday due to the deteriorating security situation.

UN evacuates staff from Baghdad

As tensions rose due to the advance of Sunni insurgents, the UN said it had evacuated nearly 60 staff members from Baghdad to neighbouring Jordan, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times.

"Underscoring the menace posed by the fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the United Nations said it had moved nearly 60 staffers from Baghdad to neighbouring Jordan with the intention of relocating them to northern Iraq," the report said.


JPN/Agencies

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