Government troops battle fighters for control of refinery
Militants attacked one of Iraq's largest air bases and seized control of several small oilfields on Wednesday as US special forces troops and intelligence analysts arrived to help Iraqi security forces counter a mounting Sunni insurgency.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki, who is fighting for his job and is under international pressure to create a more inclusive government, said he supported starting the process of forming a new cabinet within a week.
He also 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 held nearly three months ago.
In northern Iraq, the Sunni militants extended a two-week advance that has been led by the hardline Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) but also includes an amalgam of other Sunni groups angered by Maliki's rule.
They blame Maliki for marginalising their sect during eight years in power. The fighting threatens to rupture the country two and a half years after the end of US occupation.
US Secretary of State John Kerry during a visit this week pressed Iraqi officials to form an "inclusive" government and urged leaders of the autonomous Kurdish region to stand with Baghdad against the onslaught.
A session of parliament is planned within a week that will start the process of forming a new government based on the results of elections held in April. Maliki's Shi'ite-led State of Law coalition won the most seats but needs the support of other Shi'ite groups, Sunnis and Kurds to build a government.
"We will attend the first session of parliament," Maliki said on state television, adding the commitment stemmed from "loyalty to our people" and respect for a call by Iraq's foremost Shi'ite clergy.
Article continued on next page...