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Published: Friday August 8, 2014 MYT 8:50:05 PM
Updated: Friday August 8, 2014 MYT 8:51:07 PM

Britain tells citizens to leave Iraqi Kurdistan capital Arbil

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government told its citizens to leave parts of Iraqi Kurdistan, including the regional capital Arbil, on Friday as the sweeping advance of Islamist militants brought them closer to Kurdish territory.

The government said the security situation could deteriorate quickly after fighting in the last two days to the southwest of Arbil, where many Western oil workers and executives are based, so British citizens in the regional capital of 1.5 million people should leave immediately.

"This follows attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on towns to the Southwest of Erbil (Arbil) on 6-7 August," the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said on its website.

"If you're currently in these areas you should leave now. The security situation in the Kurdistan Region could deteriorate quickly."

Islamic State, previously known as ISIL, considers non-Muslims and adherents to Shi'ite Islam as apostates. In many towns it has captured the group has made a stark offer: convert, flee or die.

U.S. President Barack Obama said he had authorised limited bombing to prevent "genocide" and blunt the onslaught of Sunni radicals who have advanced to within a half-hour drive from Arbil, though no airstrikes had yet been seen on Friday.

London-listed energy companies operating in Iraqi Kurdistan, including Genel and Afren , said on Friday they were starting to evacuate non-essential staff from the region.

The British Foreign Office said it was now advising against travel to the Kurdish provinces of Arbil, Suleymania and Dohuk, extending its travel advisory already in place on many provinces in southern Iraq.

"The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the rest of Iraq, including the remainder of the Kurdistan region," the Foreign Office statement said.

(Reporting by David Sheppard; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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