Sunni insurgents led by an al-Qaida breakaway group are expanding their offensive in a volatile western province of Iraq.
They've captured three strategic towns and the first border crossing with Syria to fall on the Iraqi side.
The towns of Qaim (kym), Rawah (RAY'-wah) and Anah are the first territory seized in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, since fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group overran Fallujah and parts of the provincial capital of Ramadi earlier this year.
It's the latest blow against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is fighting for his political life even as forces beyond his control are pushing the country toward a sectarian showdown.
Officials say the insurgents seized Qaim and its crossing after killing some 30 Iraqi troops in daylong clashes Friday.
Militants have also captured the Euphrates River town of Rawah. The town lies dangerously close to an important dam near the city of Haditha.
Military officials say more than 2,000 troops have been dispatched to protect the dam.