Militants took a town an hour from Baghdad that is home to four natural gas fields on Thursday, 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 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. 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 Shi’ite grand ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Iraq issued a decree on Thursday for a parliament session on July 1. Parliament will then have 30 days to name a president.
Maliki has, so far, has dismissed the calls by 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 election.