Iraqi troops have retaken full control of the northern city of Tikrit from the militants of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The Iraqi army, backed by thousands of tribal and volunteer fighters, recaptured the city from the ISIL terrorist group, which is an al-Qaeda offshoot, on Saturday, according to Al-Alam.
In the assault, army forces attacked the positions of the takfiri militants from four different directions.
The latest development could facilitate the Iraqi army’s advance toward Baiji and Mosul.
Meanwhile, an unspecified number of militants were killed and at least 20 vehicles belonging to the terrorists destroyed during the latest round of operations near the city of Samarra.
In another development, the ISIL militants overrunning northern Iraq kidnapped dozens of Shia civilians and destroyed several places of worship.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the takfiri militants attacked two villages near the city of Mosul and ordered its residents to leave their homes before taking away at least 40 men.
Soldiers of the Iraqi army have been engaged in heavy fighting with the militants in different fronts and have so far been able to push back militants in several areas.
The Iraqi army began its clean-up operations from the capital Baghdad a few days ago. The army troops have managed to retake several areas from the terrorists, killing dozens of them over the past few days.
Saudi king meets Kerry
Meanwhile, Saudi King Abdullah pledged in talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to use his influence to encourage Sunni Muslims to join a new, more inclusive Iraqi government to better combat an insurgency, a senior U.S. official said Saturday.
After a week of frenetic diplomacy by Kerry tackling the threat of Iraq's disintegration, Abdullah's assurance marked a significant shift from Riyadh's insistence on the removal of Maliki, a Shia Muslim, Reuters reported.
The U.S. official said the Saudi monarch voiced deep concern to Kerry about the ISIL insurgents who have overrun much of northern Iraq and its border with Syria and thrust southward, approaching the Saudi frontier.
"It was clear that the two shared a view that all of Iraq's community should be participating on an urgent basis in the political process to allow it to move forward, and that each - both the Secretary and King Abdullah in their conversations with Iraqi leaders - would convey that message directly to them," the U.S. State Department official told reporters after the talks.
Until now Saudi Arabia had been unwilling to support the formation of a new government unless Maliki stepped aside and does not seek a third term.
Russia pledges military support for Iraq
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has emphasized his country’s decision to continue offering military aid to Iraq to boost the country’s defensive capabilities.
Lavrov also stated in Friday remarks, cited on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website, that Moscow would continue its extension of military support to Iraq in order to help protect the Arab country’s national sovereignty.
The development comes after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki slammed the U.S. failure to deliver any of the 36 F-16 jetfighters purchased by Baghdad, blaming Washington for his country’s lack of air power to support its ground forces in repelling recent military intrusions into parts of Iraq by ISIL terrorists.
Iraqi party leaders may oust Maliki
In another development, Iraqi party leaders planned delicate talks that could end Prime Maliki's rule after top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Sistani called for a new premier to be chosen without delay to tackle terrorists threatening to tear apart the country.
"The next 72 hours are very important to come up with an agreement..., to push the political process forward," said a lawmaker and ex-government official from the National Alliance, which groups all Shia Muslim parties, Reuters reported.
The lawmaker, who asked for anonymity due to political sensitivities, said he expected internal meetings of the various parties and a broader session of the National Alliance including Maliki's State of Law list to be held through the weekend. Some Sunni Muslim parties were to convene later on Saturday.
In a striking political intervention on Friday, Ayatollah Sistani urged political blocs to agree on the next premier, parliament speaker and president before a newly elected legislature meets in Baghdad on Tuesday.
Sistani's entry into the fray will make it hard for Maliki to stay on as caretaker leader as he has since a parliamentary election in April. That means he must either build a coalition to confirm himself in power for a third term or step aside.
Sistani's message was delivered after a meeting of Shia factions, including the State of Law coalition, failed to agree on a consensus candidate for prime minister.
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