Iraq PM Maliki rejects emergency 'salvation' government

Nouri Maliki said in his weekly TV address that ''Iraq is today facing a fierce terrorist onslaught''

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has rejected calls for a national salvation government to help counter the offensive by jihadist-led Sunni rebels.

Such calls represented a "coup against the constitution and an attempt to end the democratic experience", he warned.

The US has led appeals to the country's political leaders to rise above sectarian and ethnic divisions.

Government forces have been unable to recapture the territory seized by the rebels this month.

Almost half of the 300 US military advisers assigned to help the Iraqi security forces have arrived.

Fighting was reported to have continued on Wednesday, with an attack by rebels on the Balad airbase, about 80km (50 miles) north of Baghdad.

Also on Wednesday, a suicide bombing outside the main market in the northern city of Kirkuk left at least two people dead and many more injured.

The city was seized by Kurdish peshmerga fighters on 12 June when the Iraqi army fled in the face of the rebel advance.

At least nine people were also killed in attacks in the town of Mahmudiyah to the south of Baghdad.

Map showing areas controlled by ISIS-led militants in Iraq
'Dangerous goals'

In his weekly televised address, Mr Maliki called on "all political forces to reconcile" in the face of a "fierce terrorist onslaught".

But the Shia prime minister gave no promise of greater representation in government for the minority Sunni Arab community, whose anger at what they say are his sectarian and authoritarian policies has been exploited by jihadist militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis).

Mr Maliki said forming an emergency administration that included all religious and ethnic groups would go against the results of April's parliamentary elections, which were won by his State of Law alliance.

"The dangerous goals of forming a national salvation government are not hidden," he said. "It is an attempt by those who are against the constitution to eliminate the young democratic process and steal the votes of the voters."

Mr Maliki committed to start forming a new governing coalition by 1 July.

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Analysis: Richard Galpin, Baghdad

Mr Maliki used his weekly TV address to the nation to make it clear he will not be bulldozed into forming a government which does not take into account the result of the election in April.

He is signalling he intends following the normal constitutional mechanism for forming the new government in the coming weeks.

And that will give his alliance of Shia parties, known as the State of Law, the chance to build a coalition of its choice to secure a parliamentary majority and to select who will be the new prime minister.

It was Mr Maliki's political rival Ayad Allawi who raised the issue of a national salvation government which the prime minister has so firmly rejected.

But it seems Mr Maliki is also firing a warning shot across the bows of the international community.

The United States in particular has been putting intense pressure on him to ensure a new government is formed as quickly as possible, with a broad spectrum of politicians.

One Western diplomat has said it should be a matter of days not weeks.

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Iraqi soldiers patrol west of Baghdad (24 June 2014) Government forces have been unable to launch any strategic counter-offensives to drive the rebels back
A girl at a camp for displaced Turkmen in the northern Iraqi province of Dohuk The rebel offensive has displaced hundreds of thousands of people in northern and western Iraq
Iraqi Shia militiamen in Karbala (25 June 2014) Thousands of Iraqi Shia have responded to calls to take up arms and defend their country

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has just returned from a two-day visit to Baghdad and Irbil, said he would be going to Saudi Arabia on Friday to hold further talks on the crisis.

Mr Kerry said Mr Maliki was "following through" on commitments to move forward on the process of government formation.

Meanwhile, US and Iraqi officials have been quoted as saying they believe Syrian planes struck rebel positions around the border town of Qaim on Tuesday.

The jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) group has been active in the conflict in Syria and now controls territory on both sides of the border.

Air strikes

The 130 US military advisers are setting up a joint military operations room with the Iraqi army in Baghdad and another in the north.

US officials have made it clear that this is not a "rush to the rescue", although the US advisers are in the position to call in air strikes against the militants if it is deemed necessary.

Their primary job is to assess the capabilities of the Iraqi forces and advise on what should be done, says the BBC's Jim Muir in Irbil.

The US intelligence assessment is that the Sunni rebels spearheaded by Isis are capable of holding the territory they have captured.

Iraqi forces have tacitly recognised that, our correspondent adds. They have been unable to launch any strategic counter-offensives.

Sunni fighters: "Baghdad will fall within a month"

They are mainly focusing on two things - harassing the rebels from the air, mainly with attack helicopters, and building up their deployment for the defence of Baghdad, where troop numbers have been doubled.

The Iraqi military's chief spokesman, Gen Qassim Atta, told a news conference on Wednesday that troops were in "full control" of Iraq's largest refinery at Baiji, which has seen repeated clashes in recent days.

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