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Iraq Prime Minister Vows to Fight for Third Term

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, center, attends the first session of parliament in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, July 1, 2014.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is vowing to fight for a third term in office despite growing pressure for him to step down.

In a statement read Friday on state television by an announcer, Maliki said "I will never give up my candidacy for the post of prime minister." He vowed to remain in office until the Islamic militants who have overrun large areas of the country are defeated.

Maliki's alliance of Shi'ite parties won parliamentary elections in April. At that time he was favored to win a third term in power, but since then Sunni Islamist militants have captured large areas of northern and western Iraq and thrown the country into crisis.

Iraq's parliament met earlier this week, but failed to agree on a prime minister to unite the ethnically and religiously divided country.

The country's leading Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said Friday that parliament's inability to quickly form a new government was a "regrettable failure."

Recapturing Awja

In another development Friday, Iraqi government troops recaptured the village of Awja, the birthplace of former leader Saddam Hussein. The military action is part of an ongoing offensive that aims to retake Tikrit.

Also Friday, a group of more than 40 Indian nurses who were trapped in a northern Iraq city by anti-government fighters were released in the autonomous northern Kurdish region. The are expected to soon fly home.

Masoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, wants a vote on independence for the region.
Masoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, wants a vote on independence for the region.

On Thursday, the president of Iraq's Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, asked his parliament to prepare for a referendum on independence.

Barzani told the region's legislature that it is "time to decide about our self-determination and not to wait for other people to decide for us."

Sectarian divisions

Iraq is divided among its Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish populations.

Western leaders have urged Iraqi officials to form an inclusive government to counter the recent violence that has killed thousands and threatens to upend the government.

The recent surge by militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant came with a rise in violence that made June an extraordinarily deadly month for Iraqi civilians and for the country's security forces.

The United Nations mission in Iraq said that 886 military personnel were killed last month, a number that is higher than the first five months of 2014 combined. At least 1,531 civilians also were killed, the most since July of last year.