Militants take Iraq gas town; reports of Syria strikes on Isis
Maliki claims Syria carried out airstrikes inside Iraqi territory this week
Jordanian Copra Helicopters fly over the Ruwaished Iraq-Jordan border in Jordan. Earlier this month, the al-Qaeda splinter group Isis, believed to be backed by local Sunni militias, seized the northern city of Mosul and captured a string of towns stretching south towards Baghdad. Photograph: Reuters
Militants this morning seized a town just an hour from Baghdad which is home to four natural gas fields - 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 1st, 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 two and a half years after the end of US occupation.
The insurgents, led by the hardline Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) and including other Sunni groups, blame prime minister Nuri al-Maliki for marginalising their sect during eight years in power and he is fighting for his job.
Earlier today, Mr Maliki was quoted as telling the BBC that Syria had carried out airstrikes inside Iraqi territory this week.
In the report, Mr Maliki said Syrian jets had bombed militants near the border town of al-Qaim. He said he had not asked for the raid, but “welcomed” any strike against the militant group, the BBC said.
Syrian state media denied the country had carried out attacks in Iraq.
Three months after elections, a chorus of Iraqi and international voices have called for the government formation process to be started, including Iraq’s most influential Shia, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
The presidency issued a decree today for a parliamentary session on July 1st, 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, with nine months having been taken to seat the government in 2010.
Mr Maliki has dismissed the call by mainly Sunni political and religious figures, some with links to armed groups fighting his forces, for a “national salvation government” that would choose figures to lead the country and, in effect, bypass the election.
Iraq’s Shia religious cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a foe of Mr Maliki’s, called for all Iraqis to deplore the Sunni insurgency and rally behind the army, but said a new government was needed “with faces from all spectrums and away from sectarian quotas”.
Head of the Mehdi Army, a Shia militia which fought US troops in Baghdad, Sadr vowed in a speech last 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 10th and they took Tikrit city two days later. Kurdish forces moved into Kirkuk on June 11th and now control the oil city.
Army air strikes hit south Mosul overnight, killing one and wounding six people.
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 US-made weapons from Iraqi forces.
US 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 onslaught.
Mr Maliki’s Shia-led State of Law coalition won the most seats in the April elections but needs support of other Shia 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 in recent weeks.
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 the Middle East and North Africa bureau for the UN refugee agency, called Iraq yesterday “a land of displacement”.
US president Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops back to Iraq, from which they withdrew in 2011.
He has offered up to 300 US military advisers, about 130 of whom have now been deployed.