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Iraqi parliament to meet in step to form new govt

KDWN

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s vice president called on parliament 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 late Wednesday in which he called for a national unity government of “new faces” representing all groups.

Al-Sadr, whose followers fought fiercely against both U.S. 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.

The intense diplomatic push underscores the growing international concern over the gains by fighters led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the Sunni extremist group that has seized large swaths of Iraq and seeks to carve out a purist Islamic enclave across both sides of the Syria-Iraq border.

In Paris, Kerry said the threat posed by the Islamic State reaches beyond the two countries – Iraq and Syria – where it is currently based.

“The move of ISIL concerns every single country here,” Kerry said at the start of the meeting held at the U.S. ambassador’s residence. He said his talks with foreign ministers from Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also would touch on a “number of critical issues.”

It’s feared the insurgency will spark an outright civil war in Iraq – joining the ongoing three-year battle in Syria – if ISIL’s might is not curbed.

The Obama administration hopes that Iraq’s Sunni neighbors – notably Jordan and Saudi Arabia – will use their cross-border tribal networks to bolster the Sunni militias helping to fight ISIL with financing or weapons. But it’s not clear that Washington would even support that privately. The U.S. probably would want to vet the tribes before they received any money or arms, even from other nations, to ensure that the aid does not get passed along to ISIL or other extremist groups.

The discovery in recent weeks of bullet-riddled bodies dumped on the streets also has raised the specter of the past sectarian warfare Iraqis had hoped was behind them.

On Thursday, authorities found eight men believed to be in their 30s and 40s who had been shot to death in Mahmoudiya, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Bagdad, police and hospital officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information. The men had no ID cards with them, reminiscent of the past when Shiite and Sunni extremists would take the identification to dehumanize those killed or to use as trophies.

Shortly before sunset, a bomb exploded near a clothing shop in Baghdad’s northern Shiite neighborhood of Khazimiyah, killing nine people and wounding 32, said police and hospital officials.

Meanwhile, the commander of Iraqi forces charged with defending the country’s largest oil refinery, in Beiji, said

In northern Iraq, an insurgent artillery offensive against Christian villages on Wednesday sent thousands of people fleeing from their homes, seeking sanctuary in the Kurdish enclave. The shelling of the cluster of villages happened in an area known as Hamdaniya, 45 miles (75 kilometers) from the frontier of the self-ruled Kurdish region.

While many villagers appeared to have been granted access by daybreak, hundreds of Shiite refugees were still hoping to be let in but were facing delays at a checkpoint because they lacked sponsors on the other side.

One of the refugees, who gave only her nickname of Umm Alaa, fearing retribution, said she and hundreds of others left their village of Quba and a nearby hamlet during the militants’ initial assault on June 10 to seek shelter in communities that were then attacked Wednesday.

Another, who agreed to be identified only as Huda, tried to calm her 10-year-old son Mohammed, who was thirsty and crying.

“They will kill every Shiite man, and they will burn every Shiite house,” Huda said. “Nobody has stayed in Quba. Every single Shiite has left.”

—–

Hadid reported from Irbil, Iraq. Associated Press reporters Hamza Hendawi, Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad, and Lara Jakes in Paris, contributed to this report.

Iraqi parliament to meet in step to form new govt

KDWN

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s vice president called on parliament to convene on Tuesday, taking the first step toward forming a new government to present a united front against a rapidly advancing Sunni insurgency while Britain’s top diplomat started an official visit to the country to urge the country’s leaders to put their differences aside for the good of the nation.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s political bloc won the most seats in April 30 elections – with 92 seats out of the 328 – but he needs support from other blocs to govern with a majority. His efforts to form a coalition have been complicated by the current crisis as critics blame his failure to promote national reconciliation for the Sunni anger fueling the insurgent gains and want him to step down.

Khudeir al-Khuzaie statement ordered the new parliament to hold its first session on Tuesday and 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 in return 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. Absolute majority is needed to approve new government inside parliament.

Led by al-Qaida spin-off group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the insurgents quickly took over Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul on June 10 followed by Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit and smaller communities in the northern Sunni heartland as government forces melted away. The latest onslaught poses a daunting challenge and threatens to split the nation up into warring Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish enclaves.

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.

Compounding the pressure, powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr made a televised statement in which he called for the formation of a national unity government that would bring “new faces” representing all groups and steering the country away from the sectarian distribution of power.

Al-Sadr, whose followers fought fiercely against U.S. forces and Sunni extremists during past bloodshed that pushed the country to the brink of civil war, also vowed late Wednesday 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.

The discovery in recent weeks of bodies of people killed and dumped on the streets also has raised the specter of the past sectarian warfare Iraqis had hoped was behind them.

On Thursday, authorities found eight men believed to be in their 30s and 40s who had been shot to death with bullet wounds in the head and chests in Mahmoudiya, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Bagdad, police and hospital officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information. The men had no ID cards with them, reminiscent of the past when Shiite and Sunni extremists would take the identification to dehumanize those killed or to use as trophies.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague’s trip follows a visit by U.S. Secretary of State John 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.

The intense diplomatic push underscores the growing international concern over the gains by fighters led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the Sunni extremist group that has seized large swaths of Iraq and seeks to carve out a purist Islamic enclave across both sides of the Syria-Iraq border.

Hague called the group a “mortal threat” to Iraq that also posed a threat to others in the region, according to a statement from his office. He was due to meet al-Maliki, Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani and other political figures later Thursday.

“The immediate priority, and the focus of my discussions today, is to help and encourage Iraqi leaders to put sectarian conflict behind them and unite across all political parties,” he said.

Britain has ruled out military intervention in Iraq, but Hague said it would provide “diplomatic, counter-terrorism and humanitarian support.” The U.S. is sending 300 military advisers, although Kerry stressed that Baghdad needs to take steps to ensure that Iraq’s military can defend the country without relying on outside forces.

Also Thursday, hundreds of Iraqi villagers continued to flee advances by Sunni militants to the northern self-ruling Kurdish region and crowded at a checkpoint, seeking shelter in the relative safety of the self-rule region.

An insurgent artillery offensive against Christian villages in the north of Iraq on Wednesday sent thousands of Christians fleeing from their homes, seeking sanctuary in the Kurdish enclave. The shelling of the a cluster of villages happened in an area known as Hamdaniya, 45 miles (75 kilometers) from the frontier of the self-ruled Kurdish region.

While many villagers appeared to have been granted access by daybreak, hundreds of Shiite refugees were still hoping to be let in but were facing delays because they lacked sponsors on the other side.

One of the refugees, who gave only her nickname of Umm Alaa, fearing retribution, said she and hundreds of others with her had left their village of Quba and another nearby hamlet during the militants’ initial assault on June 10 to seek shelter in nearby communities that were then attacked Wednesday. Another, who agreed to be identified only named Huda, tried to calm her 10-year-old son Mohammed, who was crying of thirst.

“They will kill every Shiite man, and they will burn every Shiite house. Nobody has stayed in Quba. Every single Shiite has left,” he said, echoing the fears of many interviewed Thursday.

A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, Adrian Edwards, last week said the number of people in Iraq forced from their homes is estimated to be 1 million so far this year.

—–

Hadid reported from Irbil, Iraq. Associated Press reporters Hamza Hendawi, Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Iraqi parliament to meet in step to form new govt

KDWN

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s vice president called on parliament to convene on Tuesday, taking the first step toward forming a new government to present a united front against a rapidly advancing Sunni insurgency while Britain’s top diplomat started an official visit to the country to urge the country’s leaders to put their differences aside for the good of the nation.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s political bloc won the most seats in April 30 elections – with 92 seats out of the 328 – but he needs support from other blocs to govern with a majority. His efforts to form a coalition have been complicated by the current crisis as critics blame his failure to promote national reconciliation for the Sunni anger fueling the insurgent gains and want him to step down.

Khudeir al-Khuzaie statement ordered the new parliament to hold its first session on Tuesday and 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 in return 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. Absolute majority is needed to approve new government inside parliament.

Led by al-Qaida spin-off group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the insurgents quickly took over Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul on June 10 followed by Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit and smaller communities in the northern Sunni heartland as government forces melted away. The latest onslaught poses a daunting challenge and threatens to split the nation up into warring Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish enclaves.

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.

Compounding the pressure, powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr made a televised statement in which he called for the formation of a national unity government that would bring “new faces” representing all groups and steering the country away from the sectarian distribution of power.

Al-Sadr, whose followers fought fiercely against U.S. forces and Sunni extremists during past bloodshed that pushed the country to the brink of civil war, also vowed late Wednesday 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.

The discovery in recent weeks of bodies of people killed and dumped on the streets also has raised the specter of the past sectarian warfare Iraqis had hoped was behind them.

On Thursday, authorities found eight men believed to be in their 30s and 40s who had been shot to death with bullet wounds in the head and chests in Mahmoudiya, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Bagdad, police and hospital officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information. The men had no ID cards with them, reminiscent of the past when Shiite and Sunni extremists would take the identification to dehumanize those killed or to use as trophies.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague’s trip follows a visit by U.S. Secretary of State John 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.

The intense diplomatic push underscores the growing international concern over the gains by fighters led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the Sunni extremist group that has seized large swaths of Iraq and seeks to carve out a purist Islamic enclave across both sides of the Syria-Iraq border.

Hague called the group a “mortal threat” to Iraq that also posed a threat to others in the region, according to a statement from his office. He was due to meet al-Maliki, Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani and other political figures later Thursday.

“The immediate priority, and the focus of my discussions today, is to help and encourage Iraqi leaders to put sectarian conflict behind them and unite across all political parties,” he said.

Britain has ruled out military intervention in Iraq, but Hague said it would provide “diplomatic, counter-terrorism and humanitarian support.” The U.S. is sending 300 military advisers, although Kerry stressed that Baghdad needs to take steps to ensure that Iraq’s military can defend the country without relying on outside forces.

Also Thursday, hundreds of Iraqi villagers continued to flee advances by Sunni militants to the northern self-ruling Kurdish region and crowded at a checkpoint, seeking shelter in the relative safety of the self-rule region.

An insurgent artillery offensive against Christian villages in the north of Iraq on Wednesday sent thousands of Christians fleeing from their homes, seeking sanctuary in the Kurdish enclave. The shelling of the a cluster of villages happened in an area known as Hamdaniya, 45 miles (75 kilometers) from the frontier of the self-ruled Kurdish region.

While many villagers appeared to have been granted access by daybreak, hundreds of Shiite refugees were still hoping to be let in but were facing delays because they lacked sponsors on the other side.

One of the refugees, who gave only her nickname of Umm Alaa, fearing retribution, said she and hundreds of others with her had left their village of Quba and another nearby hamlet during the militants’ initial assault on June 10 to seek shelter in nearby communities that were then attacked Wednesday. Another, who agreed to be identified only named Huda, tried to calm her 10-year-old son Mohammed, who was crying of thirst.

“They will kill every Shiite man, and they will burn every Shiite house. Nobody has stayed in Quba. Every single Shiite has left,” he said, echoing the fears of many interviewed Thursday.

A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, Adrian Edwards, last week said the number of people in Iraq forced from their homes is estimated to be 1 million so far this year.

—–

Hadid reported from Irbil, Iraq. Associated Press reporters Hamza Hendawi, Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Iraqi parliament to meet in step to form new govt

KDWN

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s vice president called on parliament to convene on Tuesday, taking the first step toward forming a new government to present a united front against a rapidly advancing Sunni insurgency while Britain’s top diplomat started an official visit to the country to urge the country’s leaders to put their differences aside for the good of the nation.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s political bloc won the most seats in April 30 elections – with 92 seats out of the 328 – but he needs support from other blocs to govern with a majority. His efforts to form a coalition have been complicated by the current crisis as critics blame his failure to promote national reconciliation for the Sunni anger fueling the insurgent gains and want him to step down.

Khudeir al-Khuzaie statement ordered the new parliament to hold its first session on Tuesday and 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 in return 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 within 30 days. Absolute majority is needed to approve new government inside parliament.

Led by al-Qaida spin-off group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the insurgents quickly took over Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul on June 10 followed by Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit and smaller communities in the northern Sunni heartland as government forces melted away. The latest onslaught poses a daunting challenge and threatens to split the nation up into warring Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish enclaves.

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 political process must be allowed to proceed following April elections in which his bloc won the largest share of parliament seats

British Foreign Secretary William Hague’s trip follows a visit by U.S. Secretary of State John 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.

The intense diplomatic push underscores the growing international concern over the gains by fighters led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the Sunni extremist group that has seized large swaths of Iraq and seeks to carve out a purist Islamic enclave across both sides of the Syria-Iraq border.

Hague called the group a “mortal threat” to Iraq that also posed a threat to others in the region, according to a statement from his office. He was due to meet al-Maliki, Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani and other political figures later Thursday.

“The immediate priority, and the focus of my discussions today, is to help and encourage Iraqi leaders to put sectarian conflict behind them and unite across all political parties,” he said.

Britain has ruled out military intervention in Iraq, but Hague said it would provide “diplomatic, counter-terrorism and humanitarian support.” The U.S. is sending 300 military advisers, although Kerry stressed that Baghdad needs to take steps to ensure that Iraq’s military can defend the country without relying on outside forces.

Also Thursday, hundreds of Iraqi villagers continued to flee advances by Sunni militants to the northern self-ruling Kurdish region and crowded at a checkpoint, seeking shelter in the relative safety of the self-rule region.

An insurgent artillery offensive against Christian villages in the north of Iraq on Wednesday sent thousands of Christians fleeing from their homes, seeking sanctuary in the Kurdish enclave. The shelling of the a cluster of villages happened in an area known as Hamdaniya, 45 miles (75 kilometers) from the frontier of the self-ruled Kurdish region.

While many villagers appeared to have been granted access by daybreak, hundreds of Shiite refugees were still hoping to be let in but were facing delays because they lacked sponsors on the other side.

One of the refugees, who gave only her nickname of Umm Alaa, fearing retribution, said she and hundreds of others with her had left their village of Quba and another nearby hamlet during the militants’ initial assault on June 10 to seek shelter in nearby communities that were then attacked Wednesday. Another, who agreed to be identified only named Huda, tried to calm her 10-year-old son Mohammed, who was crying of thirst.

“They will kill every Shiite man, and they will burn every Shiite house. Nobody has stayed in Quba. Every single Shiite has left,” he said, echoing the fears of many interviewed Thursday.

A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, Adrian Edwards, last week said the number of people in Iraq forced from their homes is estimated to be 1 million so far this year.

Hadid reported from Irbil, Iraq. Associated Press reporters Hamza Hendawi, Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Iraqi parliament to meet in step to form new govt

KDWN

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s vice president has called on parliament to convene Tuesday, the first step toward forming a new government to present a united front against a rapidly advancing Sunni insurgency.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s political bloc won the most seats in April 30 elections, but he needs support from other blocs to govern with a majority. Critics blame his failure to promote national reconciliation for the Sunni anger fueling the insurgent gains and want him to step down.

Khudeir al-Khuzaie issued a decree Thursday ordering the 328-member parliament to meet. Constitutionally the next step would be to elect a speaker and two deputies, then within 30 days to choose a new president who will ask the largest bloc to choose a prime minister and form the new government.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Hundreds of Iraqi villagers fleeing advances by Sunni militants crowded at a checkpoint on the edge of the country’s Kurdish-controlled territory Thursday seeking shelter in the relative safety of the self-rule region, as Britain’s top diplomat arrived in Baghdad to urge the country’s leaders to unite against the insurgent threat.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague’s trip follows a visit by U.S. Secretary of State John 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.

The intense diplomatic push underscores the growing international concern over the gains by fighters led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the Sunni extremist group that has seized large swaths of Iraq and seeks to carve out a purist Islamic enclave across both sides of the Syria-Iraq border.

Hague called the group a “mortal threat” to Iraq that also posed a threat to others in the region, according to a statement from his office. He was due to meet Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, Kurdish regional President Masoud Barzani and other political figures later Thursday.

“The immediate priority, and the focus of my discussions today, is to help and encourage Iraqi leaders to put sectarian conflict behind them and unite across all political parties,” he said.

Britain has ruled out military intervention in Iraq, but Hague said it would provide “diplomatic, counter-terrorism and humanitarian support.”

An insurgent artillery offensive against Christian villages in the north of Iraq on Wednesday sent thousands of Christians fleeing from their homes, seeking sanctuary in the Kurdish enclave. The shelling of the a cluster of villages happened in an area known as Hamdaniya, 45 miles (75 kilometers) from the frontier of the self-ruled Kurdish region.

While many villagers appeared to have been granted access by daybreak, hundreds of Shiite refugees were still hoping to be let in but were facing delays because they lacked sponsors on the other side.

One of the refugees, who gave only her nickname of Umm Alaa, fearing retribution, said she and hundreds of others with her had left their village of Quba and another nearby hamlet during the militants’ initial assault on June 10 to seek shelter in nearby communities that were then attacked Wednesday. Another, who agreed to be identified only named Huda, tried to calm her 10-year-old son Mohammed, who was crying of thirst.

“They will kill every Shiite man, and they will burn every Shiite house. Nobody has stayed in Quba. Every single Shiite has left,” he said, echoing the fears of many interviewed Thursday.

A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, Adrian Edwards, last week said the number of people in Iraq forced from their homes is estimated to be 1 million so far this year.

Elsewhere, pro-government forces on Wednesday battled Sunni militants threatening a major military air base in Balad, north of Baghdad, military officials said. The militants had advanced into the nearby town of Yathrib, just five kilometers (three miles) from the former U.S. base known as Camp Anaconda. The officials insisted the base was not in immediate danger of falling into the hands of the militants.

American and Iraqi military officials on Wednesday confirmed that Syrian warplanes bombed Sunni militants’ positions inside Iraq, deepening the concerns that the extremist insurgency spanning the two neighboring countries could morph into an even wider regional conflict. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned against the threat and said other nations should stay out.

Iraq’s other neighbors – Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – were all bolstering flights just inside their airspace to monitor the situation, said the Iraqi official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

“We’ve made it clear to everyone in the region that we don’t need anything to take place that might exacerbate the sectarian divisions that are already at a heightened level of tension,” Kerry said, speaking in Brussels at a meeting of diplomats from NATO nations.

Meanwhile, two U.S. officials said Iran has been flying surveillance drones in Iraq, controlling them from an airfield in Baghdad. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly, said they believe the drones are surveillance aircraft only, but they could not rule out that they may be armed.

A top Iraqi intelligence official said Iran was secretly supplying the Iraqi security forces with weapons, including rockets, heavy machine guns and multiple rocket launchers.

The intelligence-gathering and arms supplies come on the heels of a visit to Baghdad this month by one of Iran’s most powerful generals, Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, to help bolster the defenses of the Iraqi military and the Shiite militias that he has armed and trained.

The involvement of Syria and Iran in Iraq suggests a growing cooperation among the three Shiite-led governments in response to the raging Sunni insurgency. And in an unusual twist, the U.S., Iran and Syria now find themselves with an overlapping interest in stabilizing Iraq’s government.

Non-Arab and mostly Shiite, Iran has been playing the role of guarantor of Shiites in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. It has maintained close ties with successive Shiite-led governments since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni who oppressed the Shiites, and is also the main backer of Syria’s Assad, a follower of Shiism’s Alawite sect.

Reports that the Sunni militants have captured advanced weapons, tanks and Humvees from the Iraq military that have made their way into Syria, and that fighters are crossing freely from one side to the other have alarmed the Syrian government, which fears the developments could shift the balance of power in the largely stalemated fight between Assad’s forces and the Sunni rebels fighting to topple him.

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 political process must be allowed to proceed following April elections in which his bloc won the largest share of parliament seats.

Associated Press reporters Hamza Hendawi, Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Sameer N. Yacoub and Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad, Lara Jakes in Brussels, Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Julie Pace and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.