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Terrorists gain ground in Iraq fighting
02:40 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

U.S. updates travel warning, saying violence in Iraq is at 2007 levels

U.S. looking at options, which include sharing intelligence

Heavy fighting in Tikrit as militants take over much of that city

Half a million people have fled Mosul fighting, group says

CNN  — 

An audio recording purportedly from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria promises more fighting in more Iraqi cities, including Baghdad.

“Continue your march as the battle is not yet raging,” a voice said to be that of ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani says on the message posted early Thursday (last Wednesday night ET) on the group’s media website.

“It will rage in Baghdad and Karbala. So be ready for it.”

CNN cannot confirm the authenticity of the audio or time and date of its recording, which is nearly 17 minutes long.

“Don’t give up a hand’s width of ground you’ve liberated,” the voice says in apparent encouragement of ISIS fighters.

The message, if authentic, is further proof that the militant group are not content with control of the places they have already taken over – and are setting their sights higher.

Government open to U.S. strikes on militants

On Wednesday, Iraq’s government indicated a willingness for the United States military to conduct airstrikes against the radical Islamist militants.

But U.S. officials said the situation is “extremely urgent,” and the United States is looking to see what more support it can provide Iraq.

Part of the help involves giving Iraq intelligence it can use to go after the militant group.

Assistance could also involve training and “kinetic” activity, U.S. officials told CNN, but they wouldn’t specify whether those options included airstrikes.

Baghdad’s openness to airstrikes was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday night.

One of the officials said there clearly was a breakdown in Iraqi security, but Washington believes it was a combination of factors, including the fact that Iraqi forces were already stretched thin by limited success against ISIS in Anbar province.

Government forces in the northern cities of Mosul and Tikrit ran when attacked this week, the officials said.

However, one silver lining, the American officials said, is that Iraq seems to have a coordinated approach with the semiautonomous Kurdish regional government. It appears that Iraqi forces will team up with Kurdish fighters, known as the Peshmerga, to fight the militant group.

Peshmerga forces took up positions in southwest Kirkuk after militants took over areas north and west of the city, and the Iraqi army withdrew, according to police officials there.

The U.S. State Department on Wednesday updated its travel warning to Iraq, saying terrorist activity and violence is at “levels unseen since 2007.” It has warned against all but essential travel to the country.

Rapid takeovers

A day after taking over Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, ISIS militants gained nearly complete control of the northern city of Tikrit, witnesses in the city and police officials in neighboring Samarra told CNN.

Heavy fighting erupted inside Tikrit – the hometown of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein – as the military tried to regain control, the sources and a police official in Baghdad said.

According to the witnesses in Tikrit and the Samarra police officials, two police stations in Tikrit were on fire and a military base was taken over by militants.

The governor of Salaheddin province, of which Tikrit is the capital, was missing, according to the sources.