Iraq PM rejects salvation govt as jihadists bolstered

Iraq’s premier rejected forming a salvation government to confront jihadists whose sweeping offensive in the country was bolstered on Wednesday when Al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise pledged loyalty to them at a border town.

NATO was due to hold key discussions on Wednesday on Iraq, where the UN says nearly 1,100 people have been killed as insurgents led by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) overran swathes of land north and west of Baghdad this month.

US military advisers landed in Baghdad but Washington has refused Baghdad’s request for air strikes in a bid to repel the onslaught, which has displaced hundreds of thousands, alarmed world leaders and put Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, under pressure at home and abroad. Maliki ruled out forming a national salvation government to confront the crisis, in a televised speech less than a week before parliament is to convene following April 30 elections, describing it as a ‘coup against the constitution and the political process’.

‘It is an attempt by those who are against the constitution to eliminate the young democratic process and steal the votes of the voters,’ added Maliki, whose bloc won by far the most seats in the polls but fell short of an outright majority. His remarks came after US Secretary of State John Kerry spent two days in Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdish capital Arbil pushing Iraqi leaders to unite to see off the militant onslaught.

Washington’s ‘support will be intense, sustained, and if Iraq’s leaders take the necessary steps to bring the country together, it will be effective,’ said Kerry, who is now in Brussels for the NATO meeting. However, US President Barack Obama has so far refrained from carrying out air strikes on the insurgents as urged by Maliki. Washington has stopped short of calling for Maliki to go, but there is little doubt it feels he has squandered the opportunity to rebuild Iraq since American troops withdrew.

Kerry is to hold back-to-back meetings on Thursday with Gulf allies in Paris to brief them on his talks in Iraq and discuss Syria’s three-year conflict.
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