BAGHDAD (TIP): Militants took a town an hour from Baghdad that is home to four natural gasfields on June 26, 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 1, 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 ISIS but also including other Sunni groups blame PM Nouri 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 Shia Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
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. Northern Iraq’s 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. Sunni fighters want to form an Islamic Caliphate from the Mediterranean Sea to Iran. They control a border post with Syria and have stolen US-made weapons from Iraqi forces. 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.
The United Nations has said that 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 UN refugee agency, called Iraq on June 25 “a land of displacement”.