Insurgents take Iraqi gas field town, close in on Baghdad
Militants took a town an hour from Baghdad that is home to four natural gas fields today, another gain by Sunni insurgents who have swiftly taken large areas to the north and west of the Iraqi capital.
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 (ISIL) but also 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.
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.
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 Ali al-Sistani.
The presidency issued a decree today 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 US 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 six people.