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May 28, 2017

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Sunni militants capture Iraqi city near Syria border

BAGHDAD--Sunni militants captured a strategic city along the highway to Syria on Monday, moving closer to their goal of linking areas under their control on both sides of the border.

The gains come as Iranian-backed Shiite militias and thousands of volunteers joined security forces to prepare for what the prime minister has vowed to be a fight to liberate every inch of Iraqi territory.

Tal Afar is dominated by ethnic Turkomen, who are both Sunni and Shiite, and is a key prize for the insurgents as it sits 150 kilometers (less than 100 miles) from the Syrian border. The al-Qaida breakaway group leading the push in Iraq also is fighting in the civil war next door in Syria where it controls territory abutting the Iraqi border.

With the Sunni militants' advance showing no signs of slowing, Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the Obama administration is willing to talk with Iran over deteriorating security conditions in Iraq and is not ruling out potential U.S.-Iranian military cooperation in stemming the advance of Sunni extremists.

Kerry also said in an interview with Yahoo! News that U.S. drone strikes "may well" be an option.

Tal Afar Mayor Abdulal Abdoul told The Associated Press that the city of 200,000 people was taken just before dawn, nearly a week after the al-Qaida splinter group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant began its lightning advance with the capture of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city.

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