Iraq's vice president issued a decree Thursday calling for parliament to meet next week to start the process of creating a new government as the Iraqi military battles Sunni extremist militants.
Vice President Khader al Khuzaei, acting on behalf of Iraq's President, made the directive amid calls for political action to tackle sectarian tensions that have fueled violence as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, advances toward Baghdad.
On Thursday evening, seven people were killed and 36 others injured in an explosion in the capital's northern neighborhood of Kadimiyah, Iraqi police told CNN. There were conflicting reports about whether a suicide bomber or car bomb was responsible.
In a televised speech this week, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki vowed to stick to a Tuesday deadline to begin creating a new government. But the Iraqi leader also spent time in Wednesday's TV address accusing Sunnis of "coordinating" the crisis.
Al-Maliki accused Sunnis of collaborating with ISIS and blasted a call to have a national salvation government that would remove him from power.
He also appealed to Shiites by saying he is adhering to the wishes of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the religious leader who called for volunteers to support the Iraqi army and government.
Many have accused al-Maliki of marginalizing Iraq's Sunni and Kurd minorities in favor of his fellow Shiites.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday played down al-Maliki's rejection of a salvation government, saying it wasn't something the United States had talked to him about specifically.
To the contrary, he said, al-Maliki is committed to the electoral process and creation of a new government that the United States has supported.
"And he (is) committed to moving forward with the constitutional processes of government formation, and that is precisely what the United States was encouraging," Kerry said. "He also called on all Iraqis to put aside their differences, to unite in their efforts against terrorism."
After talks Thursday in Paris with his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, Kerry said the two agreed they want to see the formation of an Iraqi government "as rapidly as possible that represents unity for the country."
Kerry said he and the French diplomat are also deeply concerned about the challenge of Syria.
Fabius said that ISIS had shown "terrible ferocity and brutality" and that Iraq must unite to combat it.
"It's a necessity not only for Iraq but the whole region. Because it's a menace for Iraq, for the region, for Europe and the United States as well," he said.
Kerry will meet Friday in Saudi Arabia with Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Jarba, a senior State Department official said Thursday.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, on a visit to Baghdad on Thursday, also urged the swift formation of an inclusive government, saying Iraqi political leaders must put sectarian division aside.
"The Iraqi state is facing an existential threat, with huge ramifications for the future stability and freedom of this country," he said. "The single most important factor that will determine whether or not Iraq overcomes this challenge is political unity."
Hague said this would be the focus of his discussions with al-Maliki and Kurdish regional leader Masoud Barzani.
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