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 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 two and a half years
after the end of U.S. occupation.
The insurgents, led by the hardline Islamic State in Iraq and the
Levant (ISIL) but also including other Sunni groups blame Prime
Minister Nuri al-Maliki for marginalizing their sect during eight
years in power and he is fighting for his job.
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 Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah
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.
Maliki has dismissed the call of mainly Sunni political and
religious figures, some with links to armed groups fighting Maliki,
for a "national salvation government" that would choose figures to
lead the country and, in effect, bypass the election.
Iraq's Shi'ite religious cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a foe of 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 Shi'ite militia which 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."
Northern Iraq's largest city Mosul fell to Sunni insurgents on June
10 and took Tikrit city two days later. Kurdish forces moved into
Kirkuk on June 11 and now control the oil city.
Army air strikes hit south Mosul overnight, killing one and wounding
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Disparate Sunni fighters want to form an Islamic Caliphate from the
Mediterranean Sea to Iran. They now control a border post with Syria
and have stolen U.S.-made weapons from Iraqi forces.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Iraqi officials to form
an "inclusive" government during a visit this week and urged leaders
of the autonomous Kurdish region to stand with Baghdad against the
Maliki's Shi'ite-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.
The United Nations says more than 1,000 people, mainly civilians,
have been killed during the Sunni insurgents' advance in Iraq.
The figure includes unarmed government troops machine gunned in mass
graves by insurgents, as well as several reported incidents of
prisoners killed in their cells by retreating government forces.
In addition to the bloodshed, close to a million people have been
displaced in Iraq this year. Amin Awad, director of Middle East and
North Africa bureau for the U.N. refugee agency, called Iraq on
Wednesday "a land of displacement".
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops back
to Iraq where they withdrew in 2011. He has offered up to 300
American military advisers, about 130 of whom have now been
(Editing by Anna Willard)
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