Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is facing growing calls to step down from his fellow Shia Muslims. They say his resignation is necessary to heal the sectarian divide with Sunnis in the conflict-hit nation.
The country's powerful Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr televised a speech on Thursday. He called for a national unity government of new faces representing all groups.
That added to mounting criticism at home and abroad. Maliki's prioritizing of Shias invited complaints from Sunnis, leading to an increase in extremism.
But Maliki is refusing to go.
On the same day, government paratroopers attacked the militant-held northern city of Tikrit. The military says it killed several dozen extremists.
Government forces also launched airstrikes on militants who were set to break into Iraq's biggest oil refinery in another northern city of Beiji.
But the extremists are continuing to resist with the support of local Sunni clans in central and northern Iraq.
The sectarian confrontation is further intensifying with no sign of easing.
Jun. 26, 2014 - Updated 20:56 UTC