Iraq's fractious parliament elected a speaker yesterday, setting the stage for the government formation process to proceed after extensive delays, as security forces advanced into militant-held Tikrit.
World powers and Iraq's top Shiacleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, had piled pressure on MPs to put aside their differences to help counter a major jihadist-led onslaught that has overrun swathes of territory north and west of Baghdad.
After two sessions in which they made no progress, MPs elected Salim al-Juburi parliament speaker, a post traditionally held by a Sunni Arab that must be filled before the process of forming a government can go ahead.
Acting speaker Mahdi Hafez announced that Juburi, an MP from Diyala who ran on an independent list, won 194 of 273 votes cast.
It was not immediately clear if his election was part of a package deal involving the two outstanding senior posts of president and prime minister, but yesterday's progress after previous deadlocked sessions indicates that some type of accord has been reached.
Lawmakers must now elect a president, who will then give the biggest bloc the first chance to form a government.
The UN's Iraq envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, has warned politicians that "failing to move forward on electing a new speaker, a new president and a new government risks plunging the country into chaos".
Earlier yesterday, security forces began an attack on Tikrit, aiming to revitalise an operation to retake it that began more than two weeks ago but became bogged down south of the city.
"Iraqi forces began a military operation to liberate the city of Tikrit and our forces were able to control the southern part of the city," Ahmed Abdullah Juburi, the governor of Salaheddin province, of which Tikrit is the capital, told AFP.
Tikrit was seized by militants on June 11 as part of a sweeping offensive that has overrun large areas of five provinces since it began last month.
Tribesmen and security forces also battled militants in the town of Dhuluiyah on Thursday, just 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Baghdad.
Violence also struck south of Baghdad yesterday, with bombings in the Madain area killing nine people, including four soldiers, officials said.
The fighting and bombings came a day after the Pentagon said American military teams sent to Iraq last month had completed their assessment of Iraqi security forces.
The details were not released, but The New York Times said one conclusion was that only roughly half of Iraq's units are capable enough to be advised by US personnel, if the decision is taken to do so.