IRBIL, Iraq — Iraq's dire situation has gone from bad dream to nightmare in two weeks of fighting that have seen Sunni Muslim gunmen assert control over a growing area, including, Kurdish officials said Tuesday, at least two towns that lie on a crucial supply route linking Baghdad with the mostly Shiite Muslim south.
The fall of towns in an area that American troops knew as the "Triangle of Death" because of its propensity for violence provided an ominous signal, the Kurdish officials said, that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and its Sunni allies are working to encircle Baghdad.
"The picture is no longer scary," said Shafin Dizayee, the spokesman for the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in Irbil. "It has become close to a nightmare scenario, where we see Daash expanding and taking control of its borders." "Daash" is the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
Another Kurdish official, Jabbar Yawar, the spokesman for the Kurdish peshmerga militia, said ISIS fighters apparently had seized control of the towns of Iskandariyah and Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad, and were reported in some instances to be just 6 miles from Baghdad.
Southern Iraq is mostly Shiite, and it supports the embattled government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki. Thousands of young men from the south have flocked to Baghdad to bolster the flagging army, and many observers have assumed that the flow of southern militiamen would help stem an ISIS advance that's captured much of northern and central Iraq in the weeks since the city of Mosul fell under ISIS control June 10.
But the loss of the southern approaches to the capital would change that calculus and add to the sense that Baghdad was gradually being isolated.