BAGHDAD – Despite mounting pressure to step aside, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed Friday not to abandon his bid for another term as prime minister and pledged to stay on until the Sunni militants who have overrun much of the country are defeated.
The sharp words are certain to prolong the political impasse gripping Iraq, which is facing urgent demands for a new government that can hold the nation together in the face of an onslaught that threatens to cleave it in three along ethnic and sectarian lines.
The offensive by militants who have swept across much of northern and western Iraq has been fueled in part by grievances among the country’s Sunni Muslim minority with al-Maliki and his Shiite-led government.
Al-Maliki, a Shiite, has been accused by former allies and others of monopolizing power and contributing to the crisis by failing to promote reconciliation with Sunnis.
Al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc won the most parliamentary seats in April elections, which would traditionally make him the leading candidate to head a new government. But al-Maliki failed to gain a majority in the legislature, meaning he needs allies to form a government.
Iraq’s military claimed progress Friday, saying troops backed by tanks and helicopter gunships captured the village of Awja — the birthplace of former President Saddam Hussein — south of Tikrit. The push through Awja is part of an offensive whose ultimate aim is to retake Tikrit. Military spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said 50 militants were killed in the fighting.
North of Tikrit, government airstrikes hit around eight vehicles carrying militants trying to capture Iraq’s largest oil refinery, said Sabah al-Nuaman, the spokesman for Iraq’s counterterrorism services. He reported as many as 30 insurgents were killed.
In Syria, where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State fighters have thrived amid the country’s civil war, the rebel group seized the al-Tanak oil field Friday near the border as they try to consolidate their hold along the length of the Euphrates River stretching through Syria and Iraq, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The seizure followed the Islamic State group’s takeover of Syria’s largest oil field on Thursday. Both oil fields were taken from other rebel groups.