Zee Media Bureau/Deepak Nagpal & Hemant Abhishek
Iraq`s top Shiite cleric urged all of its people to unite and expel Sunni Muslim insurgents, as Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki came under growing pressure at home and abroad.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a revered cleric among the Shiite majority, called on Iraqis to band together against the insurgents before it was too late.
If ISIL is not "fought and expelled from Iraq, everyone will regret it tomorrow, when regret has no meaning," his spokesman announced on his behalf.
The reclusive Sistani, who heads a council of senior clerics, said Iraq`s next government must be "effective" and avoid "past mistakes", an apparent rebuke to Maliki, premier since 2006.
Militants attacked the town of Muqdadiyah northeast of Baghdad, sparking clashes that killed 30 Shiite militiamen, a police colonel and a doctor said.
The fighting began on Friday morning and eased later in the day with security forces still in control of Muqdadiyah and militants deployed in adjoining areas.
A commander of Sunni insurgent forces has said that the ISIS-led forces were willing to attack Baghdad, even at the cost of plunging Iraq into civil war.
The Telegraph quoted Sheikh Ahmed al-Dabash, a founder of the Islamic Army of Iraq, as saying that the Sunni forces would march into Baghdad if Iraqi PM Maliki did not step down.
France will not consider a military option to stop insurgents` offensive in Iraq until it receives the UN green light, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
"We have a principle: we could intervene if there was a request from the Iraqi government and with UN authorisation," Fabius stressed, and added, "Western intervention can be effective if it is backed up by a unity government. With or without Maliki, what Iraq needs is a government of national unity."
Clashes with Sunni Muslim militants have killed 34 Iraqi security forces members in Al-Qaim, a town on the Syrian border, officials said.
The fighting broke out late Thursday night and continued until around noon Friday, with militants in control of most of the town, security forces officers and a local official said.
Col Ali al-Qureishi, the army officer in charge of protecting a key Iraqi refinery besieged by Sunni militants, said he feared insurgents were regrouping to resume their assault on the Beiji refinery, some 250 kilometres north of Baghdad.
Its loss would be a devastating symbol of the Baghdad government`s powerlessness in the face of the offensive by Sunni militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
A humanitarian crisis is brewing, as families who`ve fled fighting with little more than the clothes on their back seek water, food and shelter from the summer heat, CNN reported.
US President Barack Obama lacks "serious will" to combat terrorism, a top Iranian official said on Friday, after a request from the Iraqi government for US air strikes went unanswered.
Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian`s comments followed a statement from Obama on the Iraq crisis in which he pledged to send military advisers to Baghdad but stopped short of further action at this stage.
Iraqi forces were massing north of Baghdad on Friday, aiming to strike back at Sunni Islamists whose drive toward the capital prompted the United States to send military advisers to stiffen government resistance.
President Barack Obama offered up to 300 Americans to help coordinate the fight. But he held off granting a request for air strikes from the Shi`ite-led government and renewed a call for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to do more to overcome sectarian divisions that have fuelled resentment among the Sunni minority.
In the area around Samarra, on the main highway 100 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, which has become a frontline of the battle with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the provincial governor, a rare Sunni supporter of Maliki, told cheering troops they would now force ISIL and its allies back.
A source close to Maliki told Reuters that the government planned to hit back now that it had halted the advance which saw ISIL seize the main northern city of Mosul, capital of Nineveh province, 10 days ago and sweep down along the Sunni-populated Tigris valley toward Baghdad as the US-trained army crumbled.
Governor Abdullah al-Jibouri, whose provincial capital Tikrit was overrun last week, was shown on television on Friday telling soldiers in Ishaqi, just south of Samarra: "Today we are coming in the direction of Tikrit, Sharqat and Nineveh.
"These troops will not stop," he added, saying government forces around Samarra numbered more than 50,000.
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday regretted the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003, telling an Indian news channel that it would not be right for the US to get involved in the current crisis unless Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stops being sectarian.
She slammed al-Maliki for being a sectarian leader for a small section of population and for not sharing power with Sunnis, adding he has not done enough for inclusive growth.
ISIS militants have surrounded the oil facility and have also claimed to have seized most of the Tal Afar airport in northern Iraq.
Attacks on Iraqi civilians by terrorist and armed groups like ISIS could amount to war crimes and protection of civilians should be the primary focus of any strategy to address the crisis in that country, special advisers to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have said.
Adama Dieng, the special adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, and Jennifer Welsh, the special adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, expressed concern at the situation in Iraq and the impact on its people.
A report claimed on Friday that one of the 40 Indians abducted in Iraq has fled his captors and has managed to contact Indian officials.
The report said the Iraqi Red Crescent head had confirmed that the Indian managed to escape from ISIS militants` custody and is now in safe custody in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil.
India has learned the location of 40 of its citizens kidnapped in Iraq by suspected Islamist militants and believes they are being held captive with workers of other nationalities, the External Affairs Ministry said yesterday.
The hostages worked for Baghdad-based construction company Tariq Noor Al Huda and were abducted in Iraq`s second largest city of Mosul after it fell to Sunni Muslim rebels last week.
The Muthanna facility, some 45 miles northwest of Baghdad, still houses old weapons, but officials say they are contaminated and hard to transport. Also, militants lack the capability, believe Iraqi officials, to build a chemical weapon out of them.
Militants of the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria had yesterday surrounded the oil facility in Baiji after a day of intense fighting.
With the country in turmoil, rivals of Iraq`s Shiite prime minister are mounting a campaign to force him out of office, with some angling for support from Western backers and regional heavyweights. Their effort received a massive boost from President Barack Obama Thursday.
The US leader stopped short of calling for Nouri al-Maliki to resign, saying "it`s not our job to choose Iraq`s leaders." But, his carefully worded comments did all but that.
"Only leaders that can govern with an inclusive agenda are going to be able to truly bring the Iraqi people together and help them through this crisis," Obama declared at the White House.
US President Barack Obama has pledged to take "precise" military action if needed to check marauding Sunni radicals in Iraq and offered up to 300 US advisors to train Iraqi forces facing a crisis splintering the country along sectarian lines.
But Obama, who based an entire political career on ending US involvement in Iraq, insisted the United States was not slipping back into the morass.
"American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq," an adamant Obama said.
Obama made the announcement after meeting his top national security advisors to discuss how to respond to swift gains by ISIS insurgents who have seized several key cities and threaten to advance on Baghdad.
The fighters have grabbed northern Iraq`s biggest city, Mosul, displaced hundreds of thousands of people, left an unknown number dead and alarmed Western nations who fear the establishment of a vast new "terror" haven.
ISIS fighters also seized one of Saddam Hussein`s chemical weapons factories, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday, though she said the United States did not believe any materials remaining on the site could be used for military purposes, because they were old and "very difficult, if not impossible, to safely move."