Baghdad: Iraq’s newly-elected parliament convenes today to begin choosing a government, with premier Nuri al-Maliki’s bid for a third term battered by a Sunni militant offensive threatening to tear Iraq apart.
World leaders and senior clerics have urged Iraq’s fractious politicians to unite in the face of the militant onslaught, which has killed more than 2,000 people, displaced hundreds of thousands and polarised the country’s Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish populations.
Iraq has appealed for US air strikes in the face of the offensive and has purchased more than a dozen Russian warplanes to bolster its fledgling air force as it takes the fight to militants holding a string of towns and cities.
But Washington, which further bolstered security at its embassy yesterday, has so far not acceded, and has said that planned deliveries of F-16 fighter jets could even be delayed.
Iraq’s Shiite premier has been criticised by his domestic opponents as being sectarian and for consolidating power, leading to resentment among the minority Sunni population and spawning the militant advance.
The offensive, which Iraq’s security forces have struggled to hold back, has undermined Maliki’s case for re-election after April’s election initially left him in the driver’s seat, analysts say.
“This has become a much more competitive race for the premiership position,” said Ayham Kamel, Middle East and North Africa director for the Eurasia Group consultancy.
He echoed the expectation of several lawmakers who have told AFP that, despite pressure from Western countries and powerful religious leaders to urgently form a government, a new cabinet was unlikely to be in place for several weeks.
“The broad direction here is to be more inclusive, at least when it comes to the Sunni community, and figure out a power-sharing deal,” Kamel added.
Though the vast majority of Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority do not actively support militants, analysts say their anger over alleged mistreatment by the Shiite-led authorities means they are less likely to cooperate with the security forces, fostering an environment in which militancy can flourish.
Iraqi forces initially wilted in the face of the onslaught but have since performed more capably, with security officials touting apparent progress in recapturing the city.
The security forces are battling militants led by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, which on Sunday declared a “caliphate”, an Islamic form of government last seen under the Ottoman Empire, and ordered Muslims worldwide to pledge allegiance to their chief.