Sunni fighters carry RPG missile launchers and machine guns as they take up position in Fallujah city in western Iraq on Sunday after Isil militants took control of the city. Image Credit: EPA

Dubai: Fighting erupted at the northern approaches to Baghdad Tuesday as Iraq accused Saudi Arabia of promoting “genocide” by backing militants who have seized swathes of its territory in an offensive the UN says threatens its very existence.

The swift advance of the militants has sparked international alarm, with UN envoy to Baghdad Nickolay Mladenov warning that Iraq’s territorial integrity was at stake “Right now, it’s life-threatening for Iraq but it poses a serious danger to the region,” Mladenov told AFP.

A UN commission on Syrian war crimes sounded the alarm that the entire region is on the brink of war. In its latest report yesterday to the UN Human Rights Council, the commission said “a regional war in the Middle East draws ever closer” as Sunni insurgents advance across Iraq to control areas bridging the Iraq-Syria frontier - drawing in Washington and Tehran.

Washington deployed some 275 military personnel to protect its embassy in Baghdad, the first time it has sent troops to Iraq since it withdrew its forces at the end of 2011 after a bloody and costly intervention launched in 2003.

In the latest bloodshed, scores of Iraqis were killed yesterday during a battle for a provincial capital, and fighting shut the country’s biggest oil refinery, starving parts of the country of fuel and power.

The battle lines are now formalising, with the insurgents held at bay about an hour’s drive north of Baghdad and just on the capital’s outskirts to the west.

State television said Iraqi security forces repelled attacks on three neighbourhoods overnight in Baquba, capital of Diyala, an ethnically and religiously mixed province that saw some of the worst violence of the 2003-2011 US occupation. It left 44 prisoners dead at a police station, marked the closest that fighting has come to the the capital.

The government, meanwhile, defied Western calls to reach out to Sunnis to defuse the uprising in the north, declaring a boycott of Iraq’s main Sunni political bloc.

But the government has moved in the opposite direction, announcing a crackdown on politicians and officers he considers “traitors” and lashing out at neighbouring countries for stoking militancy.

The latest target of his government’s fury was Saudi Arabia which funds fighters in neighbouring Syria but denies it is behind Isil. “We hold them responsible for supporting these groups financially and morally, and for the outcome of that - which includes crimes that may qualify as genocide: the spilling of Iraqi blood, the destruction of Iraqi state institutions and historic and religious sites,” the Iraqi government said of Riyadh in a statement.

Hassan Sunaid, a close Al Maliki ally, said the governing Shiite National Alliance should boycott all work with the largest Sunni political bloc, Mutahidoon.