Kurdish peshmerga forces have stepped in to seize several towns, including Kirkuk, after the central government's forces collapsed in the face of the militant's assault. REUTERS/Stringer
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The Shiite-led government of Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki remained in paralysis Friday, unable to form a coherent response after al-Qaida-inspired militants blitzed and captured entire chunks of the nation's Sunni heartland this week, including major cities, towns, military and police bases as Iraqi forces melted away or fled.The new reality is the biggest threat to Iraq's stability since the U.S. withdrawal at the end of 2011, and it has pushed the nation closer to a precipice that would partition it into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish zones. Fighters from the militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) Thursday vowed to march on Baghdad, joined by Saddam Hussein-era loyalists and other disaffected Sunnis. Three planeloads of Americans were being evacuated from a major Iraqi air base in Sunni territory north of Baghdad, U.S. officials said, and Germany urged its citizens to immediately leave parts of Iraq, including Baghdad.Two communities near Tikirt -- the key oil refining center of Beiji and the city of Samarra, home to a prominent Shiite shrine -- remained in government hands, according to Iraqi intelligence officials.
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