Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki yesterday conceded that political measures are needed alongside military action to repel a Sunni insurgent offensive that is threatening to tear Iraq apart.
He spoke as visiting British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged Iraqi leaders to unite in the face of the onslaught, led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), that has killed nearly 1,100 people and displaced more than half a million more.
Iraqi forces launched a helicopter-borne assault aimed at opening the way to retaking militant-held Tikrit, hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein.
A successful operation to recapture territory inside Tikrit would deliver the most serious blow yet against an insurgency which for most of the past two weeks has seemed all but unstoppable in the Sunni heartland north and west of Baghdad.
The president's office confirmed that a new parliament elected two months ago would meet on Tuesday, the deadline demanded by the constitution, to begin the process of forming a government.
Maliki, whose Shia-led State of Law coalition won the most seats in the April election but needs allies to form a cabinet, is under strong pressure from the United States and other countries to swiftly build a more inclusive government to undermine support for the insurgency.
Meanwhile, in an interview with the BBC, Maliki said the Syrian air force had carried out strikes against militants on the Syrian side of the Al-Qaim border crossing, controlled by ISIL. The premier said Baghdad had not requested the Syrian strikes, but he "welcomed" any such move against the ISIL-led militants.
Iraq appealed for US air strikes against the militants, but Washington has so far offered only up to 300 military advisers, the first of whom have begun work in Baghdad.