Sunni militants captured a key northern Iraqi town, Tal Afar, early Monday morning. Only hours before, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Malaki tried to inspire volunteers who've joined the Iraqi security forces: "We will march and liberate every inch [the militants] defaced, from the country's northernmost point to the southernmost point," he said.
Tal Afar, population 200,000, lies on the Syrian border. The Associated Press confirmed through resident Hadeer al-Abadi that ISIS fighters were successful in their capture. "Residents are gripped by fear and most of them have already left the town for areas held by Kurdish security forces," al-Abadi said. He added that the local security force abandoned the town before dawn.
The U.S. State Department announced Sunday that it would relocate an undisclosed number of staffers from the American Embassy in Baghdad as the ISIS has made it clear that they intend to move towards and overtake the capital city.
Earlier on Sunday, ISIS fighters claimed on Twitter to have mass-murdered 1,700 Iraqi soldiers. While that number can't be confirmed, the group posted gruesome images of the mass-murder online. Iraq's chief military spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi told the AP today that he believes the photos are authentic.
Regardless of how many soldiers were killed, the aim of the stunt is clear: ISIS fighters want to goad Iraq into a full-out sectarian war. The New York Times notes that ISIS leader Abu Barkr al-Baghdadi is hoping the U.S. gets involved. He said Sunday, "Soon we will face you, and we are waiting for this day."
Update: Secretary of State John Kerry said this morning that he is "open to discussions" with Iran to help the Iraqis. He also said he's not ruling out possible U.S.-Iran military cooperation.
[Image via AP]