In another blow to Iraq, the city of Tal Afar fell overnight to ISIS forces. The northern city had a mix of Sunni Muslim Arabs and Turkmen, as well as a history of Kurdish integration before Saddam Hussein’s ethnic cleansing pushed them farther north. The seizure of Tal Afar has more refugees running for their lives, with little hope of finding protection from the al-Qaeda offshoot:

Fighters affiliated with an extremist Al Qaeda-inspired faction seized control Monday of another town in the northwest of Iraq, beating back pro-government forces scrambling to stop the group’s advance.

Tal Afar, an ethnically diverse town of Sunni Muslims and Turkmen, was overrun by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, after heavy clashes with Iraqi army units and Turkmen tribal fighters, according to Turkey’s semi-official Anatolia news agency. Pro-government activists in Tal Afar, however, asserted on social media that the fight was continuing, with heavy airstrikes against the militants’ positions.

The latest ISIS onslaught sent hundreds of families fleeing, Anatolia reported. The radical Sunni Muslim group is known for its barbaric treatment of foes, especially Shiite Muslims.The fall of Tal Afar, about 260 miles northwest of the capital, Baghad, came a day after the group posted online images depicting the gruesome executions of dozens of captive Iraqi troops.

The Iraqis are more concerned about Baghdad at the moment than the northern reaches of the country. ISIS has shifted toward Samarra on its way to the capital, and their army shows little sign of slowing down. In response to the advance, the US government has begun moving some personnel out of the “Green Zone” in Baghdad — the first reduction in embassy staff since the 2003 invasion re-established an American presence in the city:

This is the first time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that the embassy has decreased its staffing levels in response to a threat posed by violence, and the move was an indication of the level of concern that the unrest could reach even into the fortresslike Green Zone, where members of the Iraqi government also reside.

Citing the “ongoing instability and violence in certain areas,” a State Department statement said the embassy will also increase the number of security personnel deployed at the heavily guarded mission. A separate Pentagon statement said “a small number” of Defense Department personnel were being sent to augment security at the facility. …

Some diplomats will be relocated to the U.S. Consulate in Basra to the south; others to the consulate in Irbil, in the northern Kurdistan region; and others to Amman, Jordan, the statement said, adding that the embassy in Baghdad will remain open.

The footprint of ISIS control makes it one of the larger states in the region, assuming they can hold their ground, even without control of Baghdad. If the capital falls to ISIS, we can expect a wider war with Iran entering on behalf of the Maliki government, and perhaps resources from other Sunni states flowing to ISIS either overtly or covertly as a means to degrade Iranian capabilities. It will be an utter disaster for US policy in the region, not to mention the peoples on whose ground the war is being waged already.

CBS wonders if that ground will include the US. Would an ISIS state produce another 9/11?

Experts say the group’s increasing power and reach is concerning, though it’s not entirely clear when they might be able to threaten the U.S.

“You’ve got motivation mixed with opportunity, ideology and foreign fighters and all of that looks like a very extreme version of Afghanistan in the ’90s, plus what was happening in Iraq after the Iraq war,” said CBS News National Security Analyst Juan Zarate. “This is a cauldron of future terrorist threats to the west.”

The bigger danger, Zarate said, is that the U.S. does not yet know exactly what the group will look like once it evolves. While ISIS might not launch an attack on U.S. soil tomorrow, he said, “I think the grave threat here is that you have the seeds of a new terrorist movement emerging very aggressively.” …

“The seeds of 9/11s are being planted all over Iraq and Syria,” [Sen. Lindsey] Graham said. “They want an Islamic caliphate that runs through Syria and Iraq…and they plan to drive us out of the Mideast by attacking us here at home.”

Graham’s concerns were echoed on ABC’s “This Week” by Ret. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who said that “all Americans should be concerned” by ISIS’ quick rise and success in Iraq. And on “Fox News Sunday,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said, “I guarantee you: this is a problem that we will have to face and we’re either going to face it in New York City or we’re going to face it here.”

“These are not monkey bar terrorists out in the desert somewhere planning some very low-level attack. These are sophisticated, command and controlled, seasoned combat veterans who understand the value of terrorism operations external to the region, meaning Europe and the United States. That is about as dangerous a recipe as you can put together,” he said.

I think the answer to that question is not if but when.