BAQUBA, Iraq - Islamist militants gained more ground in Iraq early Friday, moving into two towns in the eastern province of Diyala, while U.S. President Barack Obama considered military strikes to halt their advance towards the capital Baghdad.
After security forces abandoned their posts, security sources said the towns of Saadiyah and Jalawla had fallen to the Sunni insurgents, along with several villages around the Himreen mountains, which have long been a hideout for militants.
Militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham - a group that was disowned by al Qaeda for being too brutal - overran the northern city of Mosul earlier this week and have since pressed south towards Baghdad in an onslaught against the Shiite-led government.
The Kurds, who run their own autonomous region in the north, have taken advantage of the chaos to expand their territory, taking control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and other areas outside the formal boundary of their enclave.
Kurdish peshmerga forces also deployed men to secure their political party offices in Jalawla before the insurgents arrived in the town. There were no confrontations between them.
The Iraqi army fired artillery at Saadiya and Jalawla from the nearby town of Muqdadiya, sending dozens of families fleeing towards Khaniqin near the Iranian border, security sources said.