An Iraqi Shi'ite Turkmen fighter stands guard at a
checkpoint at Tuz Khurmato in Salahuddin Province.
Iraq's army has sent tanks and armoured vehicles to try
to dislodge insurgents from the northern city of Tikrit on the
second day of a pushback against a Sunni militant takeover of
large stretches of Iraq.
The hardline Sunni group leading the insurgency, until Sunday
known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),
declared itself a "caliphate" on Sunday and called on
factions worldwide to pledge their allegiance - a move
analysts saw as a direct challenge to al Qaeda, which
disowned ISIL in February, and to Gulf Arab rulers.
In Baghdad, which is threatened by the rebel advance, top
Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers scrambled to agree
cabinet nominations before parliament meets on Tuesday to try
to prevent the rebel advance jeopardising Iraq's future as a
They are racing against time as ISIL, which loathes Prime
Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government,
consolidates its grip on the north and west. Maliki's
political future after eight years in power will be the most
Troops backed by helicopter gunships began an assault on
Tikrit, the birthplace of former President Saddam Hussein, on
Saturday, to try to take it back from insurgents who have
swept to within driving range of Baghdad.
The army sent in tanks and helicopters to battle ISIL
militants near the University of Tikrit in the city's north
on Sunday, security sources said. Two witnesses said they saw
a helicopter gunned down over northern Tikrit, reports not
possible to immediately verify independently.
The offensive was the first major attempt by the army to
retake territory after the United States sent up to 300
advisers, mostly special forces, and drones to help the
government take on ISIL.
Earlier on Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussain
al-Shahristani, one of Iraq's most senior politicians,
faulted the U.S. for not doing enough to bolster the
country's military, just hours after Russia delivered five
"Yes, there has been a delay from the Americans in handing
over contracted arms. We told them, 'You once did an air
bridge to send arms to your ally Israel, so why don't you
give us the contracted arms in time?'" he told al-Hurra
U.S. officials have disputed similar statements from Iraqi
officials in the past and say they have done everything
possible to ensure the country is equipped with modern
The five Russian Sukhoi jets were delivered to Baghdad late
on Saturday. State television said they "would be used in the
coming days to strike ISIL terrorist groups".
A Reuters photographer saw the jets unloaded from a transport
plane at a military airport in Baghdad as Russian and Iraqi
soldiers stood on the tarmac. Iraq has relied largely on
helicopters to counter militants and has few aircraft that
can fire advanced missiles.
FIGHTING TAKES ITS TOLL
Iraqi army spokesman Qassim Atta told reporters in Baghdad
security forces had killed 142 "terrorists" over the last 24
hours across Iraq, including 70 in Tikrit, and said the armed
forces were in control of Tikrit's university. Both claims
were impossible to immediately verify.
"Our security forces have taken complete control of the
University of Tikrit and they have raised the Iraqi flag on
top of the building," Atta said.
Iran has also supported Iraq's government against the
onslaught. An Iranian general said on Sunday his country was
ready to help Iraq fight the revolt using the same methods it
deployed against rebels in Syria.
"With Syria, too, we announced we would not allow terrorists
in the hire of foreign intelligence services to rule and
dictate to Syrian people. We will certainly have the same
approach with Iraq," Brigadier General Massoud Jazayeri,
deputy joint chief of staff of the armed forces and a senior
Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps officer, told Iran's al
On Sunday, intermittent clashes broke out from the early
morning between militants and government forces in the
northeastern outskirts of the town of Jurf al-Sakhar, 53
miles(83 km) south of Baghdad.
The local government and security commanders have asked for
backup from Baghdad to face what they estimate are several
hundred ISIL fighters, police sources and the province's
ISIL DECLARES CALIPHATE
In a statement distributed on Islamist forums, ISIL, also
known as ISIS, said it was renaming itself "Islamic State"
and proclaiming its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghadi "caliph" of
the territory it has seized in Iraq and Syria.
"He is the imam and khalifah (caliph) for the Muslims
everywhere," the group's spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani
said in the statement, which was translated into several
languages and an Arabic audio speech.
ISIL and allied militias have seized funds, equipment and
control of border posts, oilfields and swathes of territory
including northern Iraq's largest city Mosul throughout its
nearly three-week-old offensive.
ISIL has long vowed to re-create a medieval-style caliphate
erasing borders from the Mediterranean to the Gulf and they
deem all Shi'ites to be heretics deserving death.
In Syria, ISIL fighters crucified eight men in the northern
Aleppo province, a monitoring group said. ISIL accused them
of being "Sahwa" fighters, a term it uses for rival fighters
it says are controlled by Western powers.
The men were crucified in the town square of Deir Hafer in
eastern Aleppo and would be left there for three days, the
Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
IRAQ'S PARLIAMENT UNDER PRESSURE
Politicians are under pressure to speed up the normally
sluggish process of selecting a new government to face the
crisis. A parliament elected in April is due to assemble on
Tuesday to begin the process.
In a statement on Sunday, the United Nations mission in Iraq
urged all representatives to attend the session on Tuesday
and move forward with selecting a new government.
"Faced with a national crisis, the political leaders of Iraq
should put the interests of the country and its people before
everything else," Special Representative of the U.N.
Secretary-General for Iraq Nickolay Mladenov said in the
But the 21-seat bloc of former prime minister Iyad Allawi, a
secular Shi'ite, said it would skip the session, arguing more
time was needed to avoid the previous government's mistakes.
Politicians from the National Alliance, parliament's biggest
bloc, said they would join the session and seek to follow the
timetable for the formation, but were tight-lipped about who
they would back for prime minister. A senior member of the
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Adnan Mufti, said it would