Militants took a town an hour from Baghdad that is home to four natural gas fields on Thursday, another gain by Sunni insurgents who have swiftly taken large areas to the north and west of the Iraqi capital.
Iraq’s presidency said a session of parliament would be held on July 1, the first step to forming a new government that the international community hopes will be inclusive enough to undermine the insurgency.
The overnight offensive included Mansouriyat al-Jabal, home to the gas fields where foreign companies operate, security forces said. The fighting threatens to rupture the country 2 1/2 years after the end of U.S. occupation.
(What is ISIL and what do they want in Iraq? Read The Globe’s easy explanation)
TIKRIT: IRAQI FORCES CLASH WITH MILITANTS
Three Iraq Air Force helicopters landed inside the university stadium of rebel-controlled Tikrit, a security source at the scene said, leading to fierce clashes with militants there.
The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said fighting centred around the university compound. Tikrit in northern Iraq fell to Sunni insurgents on June 12.
IRAQ: PARLIAMENT TO HOLD SESSION TUESDAY
The presidency issued a decree on Thursday for a parliament session on July 1, state television said. Parliament will then have 30 days to name a president and 15 days after that to name a prime minister although the process has been delayed in the past, taking nine months to seat the government in 2010.
The insurgents, led by the hardline Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant but also including other Sunni groups blame Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for marginalizing their sect during eight years in power and he is fighting for his job.
Al-Maliki has dismissed the call of mainly Sunni political and religious figures, some with links to armed groups fighting al-Maliki, for a “national salvation government” that would choose figures to lead the country and, in effect, bypass the election.
Maliki’s Shiite-led State of Law coalition won the most seats in the April elections but needs support of other Shi’ite groups, Sunnis and Kurds to build a government.
(Learn more about the Shia-Sunni divide and Iraq's deadly sectarian war with Patrick Martin’s easy explanation)
OPPOSITION: CHORUS RISING FOR NEW GOVERNMENT
Three months after elections, a chorus of Iraqi and international voices have called for the government formation process to be started, including Iraqi’s most influential Shiite, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Shia religious cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a foe of al-Maliki’s, called for all Iraqis to deplore the Sunni insurgency and rally behind the army but said that a new government was needed “with faces from all spectrums and away from sectarian quotas.”
Head of the Mehdi Army, a Shia militia that fought U.S. troops in Baghdad, Sadr vowed in a speech on Wednesday night to “shake the ground under the feet of ignorance and radicalism just as we did under the feet of the occupier.”
PARIS: KERRY MEETS WITH U.S. SUNNI ALLIES
Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with America’s top Sunni state allies in the Mideast to discuss the growing turmoil spawned by Iraq’s insurgency.
Kerry calls the ISIL threat a critical issue for all the nations represented at Thursday’s meeting in Paris. They include Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Kerry also met earlier Thursday with the Sunni former prime minister of Lebanon.
Kerry said ISIL’s bloody march across northern Iraq and its involvement in Syria’s civil war would be a focus of the talks.
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