Insurgents continued to expand their control across the country.
Fighters from the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), an al-Qaeda splinter group, seized the northern Iraqi town of Mosul in a blitz two weeks ago and then moved on to capture a string of towns stretching south towards Baghdad.
On Monday, the jihadists raised their black flags over government buildings in the town of al-Alam, in Salah al-Din province, after they seized control of it following three days of fighting Iraqi forces at its outskirts.
A security official said ISIS allied with tribal leaders in the town, driving police and army units out of the area, located near the city of Tikrit, which was seized by insurgents earlier this month.
Meanwhile, in the city of Hilla, 77 people were killed in clashes between members of the police force and militants, who attacked a security convoy transporting prisoners from al-Aqrab to al-Qassim prison.
The clashes, which took place 100 kilometres south of Baghdad, left 68 prisoners and eight militants dead. One policeman was also killed and seven injured.
A police source said most of the prisoners were al-Qaeda and ISIL members convicted for terrorism charges and sentenced to death.
In neighbouring Jordan, the armed forces “tripled” their military units and armoured patrols near the Karama border crossing after Iraqi government forces reportedly pulled out from areas on its side of the crossing and the border village of Tirbil.
ISIL forces, backed by tribesmen, overran new areas in western Iraq on Sunday, giving them a nearly 300-kilometre direct line of uninterrupted territory stretching from their base in the Iraqi city of Fallujah to Jordanian territory.
“The armed forces and security agencies are following the developments on the border closely and will take the necessary actions and precautions as appropriate,” Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed Momani said in a press statement.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected in Brussels on Tuesday for talks with his NATO counterparts and EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton. EU foreign ministers were also discussing the crisis in Iraq at a meeting on Monday in Luxembourg.
“What is now essential is the creation of a government in Iraq that includes all regions and all religions,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said ahead of the talks.
“Political unity in Iraq and an inclusive government is absolutely fundamental to combating the extremists and the terror that has been brought by ISIL ... to many parts of Iraq,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague added.
He expressed “deep concern” about the situation, while Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore spoke of “a very major threat to Iraq” and Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt called developments “alarming.” The ministers were due to discuss the crisis with Nikolay Mladenov, the UN special representative for Iraq.
But diplomats had warned ahead of the talks that there is probably not much the bloc can do, predicting that there will be little appetite for military action or cooperation with Iran on the matter.
The ministers did take action last week on the crisis in nearby Syria, which ISIL has used as a base of operations. They agreed a new round of sanctions, slapping 12 Syrian ministers with EU travel bans and asset freezes, deeming them responsible for “serious human rights violations.”