The United States, United Nations, Iran and Iraq's own Shi'ite
clergy have pushed hard for politicians to come up with an inclusive
government to hold the fragmenting country together as Sunni
insurgents bear down on Baghdad.
The leader of the al Qaeda offshoot spearheading the insurgency, the
Islamic State, has declared a "caliphate" in the lands it has seized
in Iraq and Syria. Its leader vowed on Tuesday to avenge what he
said were wrongs committed against Muslims worldwide.
Despite the urgency, the Iraqi parliament's first session since its
election in April collapsed when Sunnis and Kurds refused to return
from a recess to the parliamentary chamber after Shi'ites failed to
name a prime minister.
Parliament is not likely to meet again for at least a week, leaving
Iraq in political limbo and Maliki clinging to power as a caretaker,
rejected by Sunnis and Kurds.
Under a governing system put in place after the removal of Saddam
Hussein, the prime minister has always been a member of the Shi'ite
majority, the speaker of parliament a Sunni and the largely
ceremonial president a Kurd.
The Shi'ite bloc known as the National Alliance, in which Maliki's
State of Law coalition is the biggest group, has met repeatedly in
recent days to bargain over the premiership but has so far been
unable either to endorse Maliki for a third term or to name an
Fewer than a third of lawmakers returned from the recess. Sunni
parties said they would not put forward their candidate for speaker
until the Shi'ites pick a premier. The Kurds have also yet to
nominate a president.
Osama al-Nujaifi, a leading Sunni politician, former speaker and
strong foe of Maliki, warned that "without a political solution, the
sound of weapons will be loud, and the country will enter a black
He said his bloc did not have a candidate for a speaker so far and
was waiting to see who the National Alliance would nominate for
"If there is a new policy with a new prime minister, we will deal
with them positively. Otherwise the country will go from bad to
worse," Nujaifi said.
Shi'ite lawmakers sought to shift blame to the Sunni and Kurdish
blocs, saying the premiership was the last position to be named in
the constitutionally-defined process.
Mehdi al-Hafidh, parliament's oldest member who is tasked by the
constitution with chairing the legislature's meetings until a
speaker is named, said the next session would be held in a week, if
agreement was possible after discussions.
Baghdad can ill-afford further delays. Government troops have been
battling for three weeks against fighters led by the group formerly
known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). This week
it shortened its name to the Islamic State and declared its leader
"caliph" - historic title of successors of the Prophet Mohammad who
ruled the whole Muslim world.
Speaking for the first time since then, the group's leader Abu Bakr
al-Baghdadi vowed revenge for what he said were wrongs committed
against Muslims, calling on fighters to avenge them
"Your brothers, on every piece of this earth, are waiting for your
rescue," Baghdadi purportedly said in an audio message that was
posted online, naming a string of countries from Central African
Republic to Burma where he said violations were being committed
"By Allah, we will take revenge, by Allah we will take revenge, even
if after a while," he said in the Ramadan message. Baghdadi also
called on Muslims to immigrate to the "Islamic State", saying it was
Fighting has raged in recent days near former dictator Saddam
Hussein's home city, Tikrit, north of Baghdad. ISIL also controls
suburbs just west of the capital and clashes have erupted to the
south, leaving the city of 7 million confronting threats from three
The United Nations said on Tuesday more than 2,400 Iraqis had been
killed in June alone, making the month by far the deadliest since
the height of sectarian warfare during the U.S. "surge" offensive in
In a reminder of that conflict, mortars fell near a Shi'ite holy
shrine in Samarra which was bombed in 2006, unleashing the sectarian
bloodshed that killed tens of thousands over the next two years.
Samarra, north of Baghdad, is now held by Baghdad's troops with ISIL
in the surrounding countryside.
Violence also struck the capital, where police found two bodies with
their hands tied behind their back and bullet wounds in the head and
chest in the mainly Shi'ite neighborhood of Shula, police and
medical sources said.
A bomb went off in Baghdad's western Jihad district, killing two
passersby and wounding six more, police and medics said.
The insurgents' advance has triggered pledges of support for Baghdad
from both Washington and Tehran.
On Tuesday, Iran's deputy foreign minister said his country had not
received any request for weapons from Baghdad but was ready to
supply them if asked.
Iraq also flew Russian-made Sukhoi Su-25 jets delivered on Saturday
for the first time, state television reported, although there was no
Saudi Arabia pledge $500 million in humanitarian aid for Iraqis to
be disbursed through U.N. agencies, a Saudi Press Agency statement
[to top of second column]
Parliament opened its first session with an orchestra playing the
national anthem and the recitation of a Quranic verse emphasizing
unity. Hafidh called on lawmakers to confront the crisis.
"The security setback that has beset Iraq must be brought to a stop,
and security and stability have to be regained all over Iraq, so
that it can head down the path in the right way toward the future,"
Lawmakers stood at the arrival of Maliki, who waved to his long-time
foe Nujaifi and shook hands with Saleh al-Mutlaq, another leading
But anger among the three main ethnic and
sectarian groups soon flared when a Kurdish lawmaker accused the
government of withholding salaries for the Kurds' autonomous region.
Kadhim al-Sayadi, a lawmaker in Maliki's list, shouted back that
Kurds were taking down Iraqi flags.
"The Iraqi flag is an honor above your head. Why do you take it
down?" he shouted. "The day will come when we will crush your
The dramatic advance by ISIL, which has dominated swathes of
territory in an arc from Aleppo in Syria to near the western edge of
Baghdad in Iraq, has stunned Iraq and the West. The group and allied
militants seized border posts, oilfields and northern Iraq's main
northern city Mosul in a lightning offensive in June.
Other Iraqi Sunni armed groups which resent what they see as
persecution under Maliki are backing the insurgency.
Kurds have taken advantage of the advance to seize territory,
including the city of Kirkuk, which they see as their historic
capital and which sits above huge oil deposits.
Results of April's elections initially suggested parliament would
easily confirm Maliki in power for a third term. But with lawmakers
taking their seats after the collapse of the army in the north,
politicians face a more fundamental task of staving off a breakup of
Maliki's foes blame him for the rapid advance of the Sunni
insurgents. Although Maliki's State of Law coalition won the most
seats, it still needs allies to govern. Sunnis and Kurds demand that
he go, arguing he favors his own sect, inflaming the resentment that
fuels the insurgency.
The United States has not publicly called for Maliki to leave power
but has demanded a more inclusive government in Baghdad as the price
for more aggressive help.
Washington has so far pledged 300 mainly special forces advisers and
said on Monday it was sending a further 300 troops to help secure
the embassy and Baghdad airport.
Maliki's government, with the help of Shi'ite sectarian militias,
has managed to stop the militants short of the capital but has been
unable to take back cities its forces abandoned.
The army attempted last week to take back Tikrit but could not
recapture the city, 160 km (100 miles) north of Baghdad, where ISIL
fighters had machine-gunned scores of soldiers in shallow graves
after capturing it on June 12. Residents said fighting raged on the
city's southern outskirts on Monday.
On Friday, in an unusual political intervention, Grand Ayatollah Ali
al-Sistani, Iraq's most senior Shi'ite cleric, called on political
blocs to name the prime minister, president and speaker before
parliament met on Tuesday.
Now that deadline has passed, a prominent Shi'ite lawmaker told
Reuters he expected Sistani to keep up the pressure.
Maliki's close friends say he does not want to relinquish power,
although senior members of his State of Law coalition have told
Reuters an alternative premier from within his party was being
discussed. Rival Shi'ite groups also have candidates.
Many worry that a drawn-out process will waste precious time in
confronting the militants, who have vowed to advance on Baghdad. A
Shi'ite lawmaker, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "Things
are bad. The political process is not commensurate with the speed of
(Additional reporting by Isra' al-Rubei'i, Ahmed Rasheed, Ned Parker
and Alexander Dziadosz in Baghdad and Gabriela Baczynska in Moscow
and Yara Bayoumy in Dubai; Writing by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by
Peter Graff, Paul Taylor and Anna Willard)
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