Baghdad: Iraq`s Vice President called on parliament on Thursday to convene next week, taking the first step toward forming a new government to present a united front against a rapidly advancing Sunni insurgency that threatens to spread across the region.
Britain`s top diplomat, visiting Iraq, urged its leaders to put aside their differences for the good of the nation. And in Paris, Secretary of State John Kerry met with the United States` top Sunni state allies in the Mideast to consider how to confront the growing turmoil.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki`s Shiite-led political bloc won the most seats in April 30 elections with 92 seats out of the 328 but he needs support from other parties for a majority that would give him the right to govern. An increasing number of critics, both in Iraq and abroad, now want him to step down, saying his failure to promote national reconciliation fueled the insurgency by needlessly angering minority Sunnis.
Compounding the pressure on al-Maliki, Iraq`s powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr made a televised statement yesterday in which he called for a national unity government of "new faces" representing all groups.
Al-Sadr, whose followers fought fiercely against both US forces and Sunni extremists during the height of the war nearly a decade ago, also vowed to "shake the ground" under the feet of the al-Qaida breakaway group that has threatened to advance toward Baghdad and holy Shiite cities in the south.
Al-Maliki has faced pressure, including from his onetime Shiite allies, to step down and form an interim government that could provide leadership until a more permanent solution can be found. He has insisted the constitutional process must be allowed to proceed.
In a statement, Vice President Khudeir al-Khuzaie ordered the new parliament to hold its first session on Tuesday, to be chaired by the eldest member.
Constitutionally the next step would be to elect a speaker and two deputies, then within 30 days to choose a new president who then has 15 days to ask the largest bloc to choose a prime minister and form the new government. The prime minister-designate has 30 days to present his cabinet to the parliament.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, meeting with al-Maliki in Baghdad, told a news conference that "we believe the urgent priority must be to form an inclusive government ... That can command the support of all Iraqis and work to stop terrorists and their terrible crimes."
Hague`s trip follows a visit by Kerry, who earlier this week delivered a similar message and warned that Washington is prepared to take military action even if Baghdad delays political reforms.