One by one, Iraqi cities seem to be falling to a militant group bent on continuing its march forward.
What's happening in Iraq now has all the makings of a civil war - and a full-blown foreign policy crisis. The United States is mulling direct talks with Iran while it boosts security at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad with military personnel.
Why Iran? In recent days, Iran has sent hundreds of troops to fight alongside Iraqi government security forces in Diyala province, a senior security official in Baghdad told CNN.
Clearly, the crisis in Iraq is spilling far beyond its borders. Here's the latest:
Iraq's military strikes back at ISIS
After days of violent advances by the militant group ISIS, the Iraqi air force killed more than 200 militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Iraqi state TV reported Monday.
The air raids against ISIS took place in Saqlawiya, northwest of Falluja, according to state TV.
ISIS has been fighting to take control of Iraq, seizing cities across the country.
Iran enters the mix
In recent days, Iran has sent about 500 Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops to fight alongside Iraqi government security forces in Iraq's Diyala province, according to a senior security official in Baghdad who spoke to CNN on Friday.
But Iranian President Hassan Rouhani denied reports that some of Iran's elite forces are in Iraq to help bolster Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a fellow Shiite.
"If the Iraqi government wants us to help, we will consider it," Rouhani said, according to an English translation of his remarks Saturday on state-run Press TV.
But "so far they have not asked specifically for help." Rouhani added that Iran could give strategic guidance if requested.
The Obama administration is exploring possible direct talks with Iran over the deteriorating situation in Iraq, two senior U.S. officials told CNN.
Both officials ruled out any type of teaming up with Iran because the United States and Iran don't have a lot of common interests - other than a stable Iraq.
The United States is wary of furthering Iran's already considerable influence in Iraq. The Shiite Iranian regime is al-Malaki's closest ally in the region. And the Obama administration is concerned appearing to team up with Iran would both alienate Iraq's Sunni majority and worry Sunni allies of the United States in the region.
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Iran is rolling back parts of its nuclear program and getting relief from sanctions in return as an interim agreement aimed at gauging Tehran's willingness to curb its nuclear ambitions appears to be working with global powers gearing up for talks on Tuesday to forge a long-term pact.
"So far everyone, both Iran and all of the rest of us who provided some very limited, targeted sanctions relief have kept their commitments," Wendy Sherman, a senior State Department official and lead negotiator for the United States on the Iran deal, told Wolf Blitzer on Monday in an interview on CNN's "The Situation Room."
Sherman, the under secretary for political affairs, spoke from Vienna where talks on a comprehensive accord between Iran, the United States, Germany and other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are due to begin on Tuesday.
The six-month deal was reached in November and took effect in January.
The Vienna talks "will build on that first step, because we don't want it to be the only step," Sherman said.
"We go into this negotiation very clear eyed, very sober," she said. "It's going to be very tough."
Her comments came as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, said his country would not "renege" on the talks, but predicted they "will not lead anywhere."
"What I care about is what Iran does much more than what Iran says," Sherman said.
She added that any final deal will be contingent on Iran taking "concrete" verifiable steps that prevent it from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.
The United States and its allies believe Iran is aiming to develop a nuclear weapon, while Tehran has said it's atomic efforts are peaceful.
Sherman said she had seen recent Iranian reports that Russia has offered to build a nuclear reactor inside Iran in exchange for oil shipments, but did not offer a comment on whether or not that was a good idea.
FROM CNN'S SECURITY CLEARANCE BLOG:
World powers plan to make Iran a "serious" offer of economic incentives at talks next week on its nuclear program, Western officials tell CNN.
In exchange for easing of sanctions barring trade with Iran in gold and other precious metals, the so-called P5+1 diplomatic bloc of countries wants Iran to shut its underground enrichment facility at Fordo, near the holy city of Qom and ship out its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20% purity, the officials said.
The group, comprised of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, plans to deliver the offer at talks next Tuesday in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
This morning on "Early Start," CNN's Elise Labott has more on the story.
READ MORE: Sources: Iran to be offered 'serious' incentive
FROM CNN WIRES:
(CNN) - Iran says it has decoded and released footage from a U.S. drone that it downed more than a year ago.
The black and white aerial footage, Iran claims was from a RQ-170 spy plane, was aired by Iranian news agencies and placed on YouTube.
A man, identified in Iranian media as Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, narrates parts of the footage.
CNN can not independently verify the authenticity of the video. Also CNN could not immediately reach Pentagon officials for comment.
This morning on "Early Start," CNN's Reza Sayah looks at the claims from Iran, and whether the claims could be true.
READ MORE: Iran claims released footage is from downed U.S. drone
Breaking news comes this morning from the Middle East. Iran claims it has captured a U.S. drone. State TV in Tehran is showing two Revolutionary Guard commanders examining what appears to be a scan eagle drone. But a U.S. defense official told CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr moments ago that all unmanned air vehicles operating in the region are accounted for.
Starr comes to “Early Start” with more on the story. She’s also following the latest on escalating tensions in Syria. President Obama has issued a warning to the Syrian government if it uses chemical weapons against the Syrian people.
The new film "Argo," directed by and starring Ben Affleck, is getting plenty of Oscar buzz.
It's based on an incredible true story of six American embassy workers who escaped capture during the Iranian Revolution in 1979. During the Iranian hostage crisis, 52 Americans were held for 444 days. It started in the Carter administration and ended the day Ronald Reagan took office. The movie documents the little known covert CIA operation that got them out.
This morning on "Early Start," Alina Cho shares her exclusive interview with the "real" embassy workers on whom the film was based.
John Berman fact checks claims on the US Consulate attack in Benghazi and Iran's nuclear capabilities in the VP debate.
Sara Sidner on how Mitt Romney's stance on Israel and Iran are different from the Obama Administration.
(CNN) – A bombing on a bus with Israeli tourists in Bulgaria was likely carried out by a male suicide attacker, the nation's interior minister said Thursday. The attack occurred Wednesday in a parking lot outside Burgas Airport in Bulgaria. Israel has suggested Iran or an Islamic militant group could have been behind it.
"From what we could see on the video cameras ... we identified a person who served as a suicide bomber in this terror attack," Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov told Bulgarian National TV.
Another person died from the blast overnight, he said, bringing the death toll to eight. The dead are six Israelis, a Bulgarian bus driver and the suicide bomber. Three people seriously wounded in the attack have been flown to a Sofia hospital, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said Thursday. A further 32 wounded people were on their way back to Israel, he said.
The suspect in the attack had a Michigan driver's license, which FBI officials on the scene have identified as fake, Tsvetanov said. As a result, the suspect's identity is "currently unknown," he said, adding that a fingerprint check was being carried out.
This morning on "Early Start," CNN's Elise Labott addresses Israel's claim that Iran is behind the blast in Bulgaria.
Brianna Keilar on President Obama's meeting with Russia's Putin on Iran and stimulating struggling global economies.
"Early Start with John Berman and Christine Romans" airs weekdays from 5-6am ET on CNN. Check in regularly for news, show updates and a little bit of fun.