Islamic State extends gains in north Iraq, Kirkuk bombed

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By Isabel Coles ARBIL Iraq (Reuters) - Islamic State militants extended their gains in northern Iraq on Thursday, seizing more towns and strengthening a foothold near the Kurdish region in an offensive that has alarmed the Baghdad government and regional powers. The advance forced thousands of residents of Iraq's biggest Christian town to flee, fearing they would be subjected to the same demands the Sunni militants made in other captured areas - leave, convert to Islam or face death. The Islamic State, which is considered more extreme than al- Qaeda, sees Iraq's majority Shi'ites and minorities such as Christians and Yazidis, a Kurdish ethno-religious community, as infidels. In Rome, Pope Francis appealed to world leaders to help end the crisis in northern Iraq after the Islamic State advance forced thousands of Christians to flee.