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Iraqi Air Strikes Target Islamic Militants

Iraqi officials say air strikes have killed as many as 30 insurgents trying to capture the country's largest oil refinery.

Sabah al-Nuaman, the spokesman for Iraq's counterterrorism services, said the air strikes targeted fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which have been trying for weeks to capture the Beiji facility, located some 250 kilometers north of Baghdad.

The group, which has overrun much of northern and western Iraq, appeared on the verge of taking the refinery last month.

But military troops managed to hold on and have since received reinforcements to help bolster their defenses.

Also on July 4, Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called the inability of Iraq's parliament to agree on a new government in its first session this week a "regrettable failure."

Sistani said in a Friday sermon delivered by his aide Ahmed al-Safi, "Last Tuesday the first session of parliament convened. People were optimistic that this would be a good start for this council in its commitment to the constitutional and legal texts.

"But what happened afterwards, in that the speaker and his deputies were not elected before the session finished, was a regrettable failure."

Sistani also reiterated his call that the new government should have "broad national acceptance."

Meanwhile, the United States has voiced its support for a united Iraq after the leader of Iraq's Kurdish region called for an independence referendum.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on July 3 that Washington believed "that Iraq is stronger if it is unified."

The leader of Iraq's Kurdish region, Masud Barzani, on July 3 asked lawmakers to form a committee to organize a referendum on independence and pick a date for the vote.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on July 2 that he rejected statements by the Kurdish regional government that it will maintain control of disputed territory.

The White House also said Vice President Joe Biden met Barzani's chief of staff Fuad Hussein at the White House on July 3.

According to the White House, Biden stressed the importance of forming a more inclusive government in Iraq.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP
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