Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is fighting for his political life as a Sunni insurgency fractures the country, said on Wednesday he hoped parliament could form a new government in its next session after the first collapsed in discord.
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In his weekly televised address, al-Maliki said he hoped parliament could next Tuesday get past its “state of weakness.”
Baghdad can ill afford a long delay. Large swathes of the north and west have fallen under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaeda splinter group that has declared it is setting up a “caliphate” and has vowed to march on the capital. Yet the mounting concern and pressure from the United States, Iran, the United Nations and Iraq’s own Shia clerics have done little to end the paralyzing divisions between Iraq’s main ethnic and sectarian blocs.
Maliki on Wednesday offered an amnesty to tribes who had taken up arms against the government, but excluded those who had “killed and shed blood.”
PARLIAMENT: SECTARIAN GROUPS AT LOGGERHEADS
Sunnis and Kurds walked out of parliament’s first session on Tuesday, complaining that Shi’ites had failed to nominate a prime minister; they see al-Maliki as the main obstacle to resolving the crisis and hope he will step aside.
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Under the system put in place after the United States toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, the premiership is traditionally given to a Shiite, while the speaker of the house has been a Sunni and the president, a largely ceremonial role, has been a Kurd. All the main ethnic blocs are beset by internal divisions, and none has yet decided who to put forward for its designated position. Sunnis and Kurds say they want Shiites to choose a prime minister before they announce their nominees, while the Shiites say the Sunnis should first name the speaker.
“Each bloc has its own problems now,” said Muhannad Hussam, a politician and aide to leading Sunni lawmaker Saleh al-Mutlaq. If the Shia bloc failed to replace al-Maliki, he said, there was a risk Sunni lawmakers would abandon the political process altogether. “There would be no more Iraq,” he said.
SHIRQAT: HELICOPTERS ATTACK TOWN, KILLING 11
Outside the capital, fighting flared again. Medical sources and witnesses said at least 11 people had been killed, including women and children, when Iraqi helicopters attacked Shirqat, 300 kilometres north of Baghdad.
Witnesses said the helicopters were targeting a municipal building where militants were sheltering, and that the air strike also hit three nearby houses.
“We have received 11 bodies and 18 wounded from the helicopters’ bombardment. Some children are in critical condition,” said Hamid al-Jumaili, a doctor in Shirqat’s hospital.
The prime minister’s military spokesman, Lieutenant General Qassim Atta, made no specific mention of the incident but listed Shirqat as one of several locations where the air force had been active during the past 24 hours.
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