BAGHDAD — Al-Qaida-inspired rebels captured three more towns in the western Iraqi province of Anbar on Sunday, expanding their onslaught against crumbling Iraqi security.
Government officials acknowledged that Iraqi troops had staged what they described as a tactical retreat from the western towns of Anah and Rawah and the southwestern town of Rutba, just 90 miles from the Jordanian border, to defend other locations.
The latest conquests give the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, unchecked control of hundreds of miles of territory spanning the Iraqi-Syrian border.
The stunning speed with which a few thousand lightly armed ISIS fighters have seized control of large portions of the country in the past two weeks has raised fears that the entire state of Iraq could soon collapse, prompting appeals from the Iraqi government for U.S. support in the form of airstrikes.
The Obama administration has indicated that it is not willing to offer such help unless the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose divisive policies are blamed for much of the chaos, is replaced.
On Sunday, Iraq's powerful neighbor Iran indicated that it is not prepared to acquiesce in such a change, dampening any lingering expectations of U.S.-Iranian collaboration in Iraq.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, slammed U.S. policies in Iraq as "interference" on Sunday and made clear that Shiite Iran does not support U.S. plans to find a new leader.
"We don't support any foreign interference in Iraq, and we're strongly opposed to U.S. interference there," Khamenei said at an event with members of Iran's judiciary, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.