Iraq’s Political Stalemate Persists as Militants Inch Closer to Baghdad

ISIS militants carried out a raid near Baghdad, where a severe sandstorm hit

BAGHDAD — As Iraq’s deadlocked Parliament was again unable to reach a deal to name a new speaker on Sunday, Sunni militants carried out a raid near Baghdad, the Iraqi capital — a symbolically significant attack signaling their intent to move closer, even if only by a few miles, toward the city.

A severe sandstorm delayed flights, preventing northern Iraq’s Kurdish lawmakers from traveling to Baghdad. The sand was so thick at times that it was hard to see across the Tigris River. Inside the Parliament, the atmosphere was similarly gloomy as last-minute deals between the largest Shiite bloc and the Sunnis appeared to be falling apart.

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The post of Parliament speaker, which by custom is occupied by a Sunni, had been expected to go to Salim al-Jabouri, who in turn would name two deputies, a Kurd and a Shiite.

But it seems that a previous commitment by Mr. Jabouri to consider supporting Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a third term as prime minister is beginning to fray. That, in turn, means that Mr. Jabouri can no longer count on the support of Mr. Maliki’s bloc of lawmakers.

With such a hazy outlook, the inability of the Kurds to make it through the brown sandy fog provided a useful excuse for the postponement of the negotiating session.

As lawmakers took stock, militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, were already moving into Dhuluiya, a Sunni town 46 miles northeast of Baghdad. They bombed a crucial bridge over the Tigris to prevent soldiers from the nearest base from reaching the town and then easily overwhelmed the police station, killing six officers, according to a town resident and an official at the Interior Ministry, who declined to be named because he was not allowed to speak to the news media.

The local tribes are divided in their support of ISIS; a majority oppose them and called for help from the army. Some troops were sent from the two nearest bases in Samarra and Balad, but the soldiers from Balad, who were closest, could not get across the river at the most convenient crossing because it had been bombed.

The militants attacked Dhuluiya around 4 a.m. and took over the police station, said a doctor in the town who would give only his surname, Issa. “They brought a big pickup truck and loaded it with explosives and then blew apart the west side of the bridge so no support will come from Balad,” the doctor said.

Then the ISIS militants withdrew from the town’s center and were holding about 20 percent of Dhuluiya. Police officials suggested that the militants withdrew from the town’s center because they knew that sooner or later the army would arrive and they would not be able to fight them. The people in the area that the militants control appear to support them, residents and provincial police officials suggested.

Al-Askari Mosque is a mosque and shrine, a holy site of the Shi’ite Muslims commemorating Hassan al-Askar, a Twelver Shi’i Imam (846–874 CE). It was built in Samarra, Iraq, in 944. It was bombed in 2006

The area just south of Samarra in Salahuddin Province remained dangerous on Sunday, with shelling overnight and a roadside bomb in Ishaki that killed four civilians and wounded two, suggesting that ISIS had not given up on the Samarra area where there is a shrine that is sacred to Shiites.

Related: Fugitive Saddam deputy calls for Baghdad liberation: (Reuters) – A purported audio message from a close aide to late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein called on all Iraqis to join efforts to “liberate” the country and praised Sunni militants who led last month’s dramatic offensive through northern Iraq.

Ezzat Ibrahim al-Douri

The voice recording released on a website loyal to Saddam’s ousted Baath Party was said to have been made by Ezzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the most senior member of his entourage still at large following Saddam’s 2003 overthrow by a U.S.-led invasion force.

Although elderly and reported to have been in poor health, Douri is believed to lead the Baathist militant group the Naqshbandi Army, one of several groups which supported the al Qaeda offshoot the Islamic State in its lightning assault through Sunni provinces of north and west Iraq last month.

“Join the ranks of the rebels who liberated half the country,” said the voice on the recording, which resembled previous tapes released in Douri’s name…