BAGHDAD – Iraqi forces and Sunni militants battled fiercely for control of the nation’s largest oil refinery Wednesday as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki went on a diplomatic offensive, reaching out in a televised address to try to regain support from the nation’s disaffected Sunnis and Kurds.
Meanwhile, the government asserted that it had retaken partial control of a strategic city near the border with Syria.
Al-Maliki’s conciliatory words, coupled with a vow to teach the militants a lesson, came as almost all Iraq’s main communities have been drawn into a spasm of violence not seen since the dark days of sectarian killings nearly a decade ago.
The U.S. has been pressing al-Maliki to adopt political inclusion and undermine the insurgency by making overtures to Iraq’s once-dominant Sunni minority, which has long complained of discrimination by his government and abuses by his Shiite-led security forces.
In Washington, President Barack Obama briefed leaders of Congress on options for quelling the al-Qaida-inspired insurgency, though White House officials said no decisions have been made. While Obama has not ruled out airstrikes, such action is not imminent, officials said, in part because clear targets have not been identified.
Al-Maliki, a Shiite, has rejected charges of bias against Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds and has in recent days been stressing that the threat posed by the militant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant will affect all Iraqis regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliations.
He also rejects any suggestion that the Islamic State and other extremist groups enjoy support by disaffected Sunnis fed up with his perceived discrimination.
In a move apparently designed to satisfy Obama’s demand for national reconciliation, al-Maliki expressed optimism in a televised address Wednesday over what he called the rise by all of Iraq’s political groups to the challenge of defending the nation against the militant threat.
I tell all the brothers there have been negative practices by members of the military, civilians and militiamen, but that is not what we should be discussing, al-Maliki said. Our effort should not be focused here and leave the larger objective of defeating ISIL.