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ISIS makes more gains as pressure builds on Iraqi leadership to form unity govt -

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ELEANOR HALL: Last week, leaders from the US and Iran were talking about cooperating over Iraq.

Today Iran's supreme leader is accusing the United States of exploiting sectarian rivalries to try to retake control of the country.

Sunni extremists have now captured new strongholds along the Syrian border and Iraqi Shiites have been crowding into recruitment centres to volunteer to fight against the insurgents.

During a surprise tour of the region, the US secretary of state urged Iraqis to find an inclusive leadership but he stressed that Washington would not choose who ruled in Baghdad.

Barney Porter has the latest.

BARNEY PORTER: The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria - known as ISIS or ISIL - is hoping to create an Islamic entity that will incorporate much of the two nations.

In the latest fighting, another four towns in the pre-dominantly Sunni Anbar province have been taken by fighters from ISIS, as well as a second frontier post on the Syrian border.

A senior Sunni figure, Shaikh Raad al-Suleiman, has spoken to the BBC.

SHAIKH RAAD AL-SULEIMAN (translated): In fact, this sudden collapse in Anbar stems from the army's lack of conviction in this battle because the will of the Anbari people is extremely strong, a desire for change.

They are subservient to Maliki. It's not an army with an ethos of defending the homeland. In all the world there's no army that goes into towns and fights its people like Maliki's army. So now most of the officers and men came to their senses, left their arms, guns and vehicles, and fled out of Anbar.

BARNEY PORTER: Iraqi army spokesman, Major-General Qassim Atta, has a different take on the events in western Anbar.

QASSIM ATTA (TRANSLATED): This is a tactical measure so we can re-open new fronts in western Anbar within the command centre of Anbar operations. These forces have been re-deployed in a stronger more secure position.

BARNEY PORTER: At any rate, ISIS is now prepared to take the battle directly to Baghdad and cities further south housing revered Shiite shrines.

That's prompted renewed warnings from the leaders of neighbouring Shiite Iran.

The president, Hassan Rouhani, has dismissed the Sunni extremists.

HASSAN ROUHANI (translated): Unfortunately they use a flag with the phrase "There's no God other than Allah" but they actually don't worship God; they worship Satan.

BARNEY PORTER: President Barack Obama meanwhile has again warned that the extremists could destabilise other countries in the volatile region.

But he says Iraq's Shiite-led government won't solve the crisis unless it changes its attitude towards the minority Sunni population.

BARACK OBAMA: Part of task now is to see whether Iraqi leaders are prepared to rise above sectarian motivations, come together, compromise. If they can't there's not going to be a military solution to this problem. There's no amount of American firepower that's going to be able to hold the country together and I made that very clear to Mr Maliki and all the other leadership inside of Iraq.

BARNEY PORTER: That's also the message from his secretary of state John Kerry, who's just begun a regional tour.

JOHN KERRY: This is a critical moment where together we must urge Iraq's leaders to rise above sectarian motivations and form a government that is united in its determination to meet the needs and speak to the demands of all of their people.

BARNEY PORTER: But the diplomatic message does not appear to be getting through.

Thousands more Iraqi Shiite Muslims this weekend headed to training centres to join the fight against ISIS following a call from their spiritual leader, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani the most respected voice for Iraq's Shiite majority.

And Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, has renewed his appeal for foreign military support.

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: I have asked requested formally from the United States for air power support. Iraq doesn't have an air force joint, see. Iraq doesn't have a single fixed-wing fighter plane.

BARNEY PORTER: The Iraqi government has also released video footage that reportedly shows military aircraft bombing suspected hideouts of militants in Mosul.

But there are now reports they've run out of missiles.

ELEANOR HALL: Barney Porter.