Crisis In Iraq: Sunni Militants Capture 2 Towns North Of Baghdad - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Crisis In Iraq: Sunni Militants Capture 2 Towns North Of Baghdad

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BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraqi officials say al-Qaida-inspired militants who this week seized much of the country's Sunni heartland have pushed into an ethnically mixed province northeast of Baghdad, capturing two towns there.

Police officials said Friday that militants driving on machinegun-mounted pickups entered the towns of Jalula and Sadiyah in Diyala province on Thursday night. Jalula is 125 kilometers (80 miles) and Sadiyah is 95 kilometers (60 miles) from Baghdad.

The officials say Iraqi soldiers abandoned their posts there without any resistance. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.

They also say Kurdish forces from northern Iraq entered Jalula to secure offices of Kurdish parties. No clashes were reported.

A representative for Iraq's top Shiite cleric has called on Iraqis to defend their country, saying those who are able should join the security forces to battle the militants.

Sheik Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie made the comments during Friday prayers. He represents Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shiite spiritual leader in Iraq.

Al-Karbalaie says it is "a duty" that citizens defend against "the dangers threatening Iraq."

The U.N. refugee agency says Iraq's refugee population has increased by almost 800,000 this year as the government struggles against rebels and Islamic militants.

The agency says 300,000 people fled for safety this week in Erbil and Duhok as Islamic militants seize control of large areas in northern Iraq.

Agency spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters Friday in Geneva that many of the refugees are arriving with little more than the clothes they wear and have no money and nowhere to go.

Last week, the agency reported that nearly 480,000 people had been driven from their homes by fighting since January between government forces and rebels in western Iraq's Anbar province.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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