Washington: The United States today shrugged off a warning by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that he would not accept a national emergency government, following US calls for an inclusive coalition to outride the current crisis.
US officials said they believed that Maliki was still committed to opening a process on piecing together a government on July 1, following his assurances to that effect to Secretary of State John Kerry.
In fact, there was some uncertainty in Washington as to what Maliki was referring when he said "the call to form a national emergency government is a coup against the constitution and the political process."
In Brussels, Kerry said that he was not sure "exactly what it is that he rejected or spoke to."
The US Secretary of State said there had been no discussion on framing a short-term national salvation government when he met Maliki and other leaders of different ethnic and religious sects in Baghdad this week.
"He committed to completing the electoral process, convening the new parliament and moving forward with the constitutional process for government formation," a senior US official said, on condition of anonymity.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Maliki`s speech had been "misinterpreted."
"We believe it`s dire enough that they need to move as quickly as possible -- and we believe they can -- to form a government. But they should not do things outside of their own constitution," Marie said.
President Barack Obama and other top administration officials have repeatedly called on Iraq to produce a unified government that allows Kurds and Sunnis as well as Maliki`s majority Shiite sect a place at the table.
They have also refused to endorse Maliki, leaving the impression that they would prefer another leader untainted by what they see as his overly sectarian governing style.
US officials said they believed, however, that Maliki was still committed to opening a process on piecing together a government when parliament convenes next week.
Washington has stopped short of calling for Maliki to go, but has left little doubt it feels he has squandered the opportunity to rebuild Iraq since US troops withdrew in 2011.
President Barack Obama has so far refrained from carrying out air strikes on the insurgents, but has offered up to 300 American military advisers, who began meeting Iraqi commanders yesterday.
Iraq`s flagging security forces were swept aside by the initial jihadist push, but have since begun regrouping.
Yesterday, loyalists fought off insurgent attacks on a major air base and a key western town, after earlier repelling assaults on Iraq`s biggest oil refinery.
Government troops maintained control of the Balad air base, while another offensive was repelled in Haditha in Anbar province, west of Baghdad.
But the country was nevertheless hit by militant violence, with bombings and shelling south of Baghdad and in the disputed, ethnically-mixed northern oil hub of Kirkuk killing a total of 20 people.
Maliki`s security spokesman has meanwhile said hundreds of soldiers have been killed since the offensive began.
The rare admission of the extent of the casualties comes as the government wages a parallel propaganda battle against the militants, though the authorities came in for criticism from a press freedom watchdog for cracking down on the media.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said it "deplores the Iraqi government`s control over the local media" as well as the reported closure of a number of satellite TV channels.
Insurgents were bolstered by fighters when the Al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda`s franchise in Syria, made a local pledge of loyalty to ISIL on a town along the Syria-Iraq border, giving it control over both sides of the frontier.
ISIL aims to create an Islamic state straddling Iraq and Syria and has commandeered an enormous quantity of cash and resources during the advance.
The New York Times reported meanwhile that predominantly Shiite Iran is flying surveillance drones over Iraq and sending military equipment there to help Baghdad in its fight against the Sunni insurgents.
The United Nations says at least 1,075 people were killed in Iraq between June 5 and 22, and has tripled its appeal for aid funding to more than USD 312 million.
The UN food agency has warned that the country faces "serious food security concerns".