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Iraqi parliament delays first session as ISIS continues deadly march

By Chelsea J. Carter and Holly Yan, CNN
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 0050 GMT (0850 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Purported message from ISIS leader calls on Muslims worldwide for help
  • Parliament can't continue session after members fail to return
  • U.N.: More than 2,400 Iraqis, including 1,500 civilians, were killed last month
  • The United States is sending 300 more troops to Baghdad for protection

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- After much anticipation over how it would address the country's turmoil, Iraq's new parliament postponed its first session until next week, citing a lack of a quorum.

The move came after 90 members of parliament failed to return after a 30-minute morning break during the scheduled session Tuesday.

"We are going to postpone because of an urgent matter," the speaker of the parliament said. He did not say what the urgent matter was, and it was not immediately clear what happened.

The newly elected parliament convened with 255 out of 328 elected officials attending, which was enough for a legal quorum, the speaker said. But when many failed to return after the break, there were not enough members to continue.

Many expected Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to call for the formation of a new government Tuesday as Iraq battles militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters assemble at a shrine on Iraq's Mount Sinjar on Friday, December 19. The Kurdish military said that with the help of coalition airstrikes, it has "cleansed" the area of ISIS militants. ISIS has been advancing in Iraq and Syria as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate in the region. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters assemble at a shrine on Iraq's Mount Sinjar on Friday, December 19. The Kurdish military said that with the help of coalition airstrikes, it has "cleansed" the area of ISIS militants. ISIS has been advancing in Iraq and Syria as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate in the region.
The ISIS terror threat
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Al-Maliki and his Shiite-dominated government have been under pressure by Western and Arab diplomats to be more inclusive of Iraq's Sunni minority, who say they have been marginalized and cut out of the political process by the government.

Under Iraq's constitution, the parliament has 75 days from when it convenes to pick a prime minister.

Lawmakers are under pressure to move faster, but the political body has had trouble moving swiftly in the past. The last time parliament met to pick a prime minister, it took nearly 10 months.

American and Arab diplomats have told CNN that the United States probably won't launch military strikes against ISIS and its allied fighters before a new government is formed in Iraq.

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U.S. sends more troops to Iraq

But the United States is increasing its military presence in Iraq, ordering 300 more troops to the besieged country, the Pentagon announced Monday.

ISIS militants have "continued to pose a legitimate threat to Baghdad and its environs," a U.S. official told CNN. "We have seen them reinforce themselves around Baghdad enough to convince us more troops was the prudent thing to do."

The new troops, 200 of whom arrived Sunday and Monday, will provide security for the U.S. Embassy, the Baghdad airport and other facilities in Iraq, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

Helicopters and drones are among the equipment included in the deployment, Kirby said in a statement.

The 300 troops are in addition to 300 U.S. advisers who will help train Iraq's security forces. They will bring the total of American forces in Iraq to about 800 troops.

Staggering death tolls

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The magnitude of the Iraq crisis can be illustrated in the sharp rise in deaths over the past two months.

At least 2,417 Iraqis died in violence in June, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq.

Of those, 1,531 were civilians, including 270 civilian police officers, and 886 were members of the Iraqi security forces, UNAMI said.

In May, 994 people died, according to the United Nations.

Iraq claims victories against militants

While ISIS has seized swaths of Iraq in recent weeks, Iraqi forces also claimed gains.

The military has said it has been battling to retake Tikrit, the birthplace of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and Iraqi state TV also said a pro-government tribal council has been established in the oil-rich and hotly contested city of Kirkuk.

CNN cannot independently confirm the government claims.

ISIS declares caliphate

Emboldened by a weakened Iraqi government that is struggling to stop their murderous advance, extremists from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria declared over the weekend that they have set up a caliphate -- or Islamic state -- spanning large areas of the two countries.

In an audio message and written statement purportedly from the ISIS spokesman, the group called on Muslims to swear allegiance to the caliphate. Both Shia and Sunni Muslims have been deeply offended by the claim.

The message claims that the group's territory now spans from Aleppo province in northwestern Syria to Diyala province in eastern Iraq. It announced that ISIS was changing its name to just the "Islamic State."

On Tuesday, ISIS issued an audio recording claiming to be from its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. CNN cannot confirm that the voice belongs to al-Baghdadi.

In the recording, the speaker urged Muslims worldwide to come to the caliphate's aid, especially scholars, judges, doctors, engineers and soldiers to "answer the dire need of the Muslims for them."

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Allegations of atrocities

Human Rights Watch, citing displaced residents and local activists and journalists, said Saturday that ISIS fighters kidnapped at least 40 Shiite Turkmen, dynamited four Shiite places of worship and ransacked homes and farms in two villages just outside Mosul.

Earlier in the week, in the predominantly Shiite Turkmen city of Tal Afar, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) west of Mosul, ISIS destroyed seven Shiite places of worship, Human Rights Watch said, citing local sources.

But allegations of atrocities are not just limited to ISIS. Amnesty International has said it has gathered evidence pointing to a pattern of "extrajudicial executions" of Sunni detainees by government forces and Shiite militias in Tal Afar, Mosul and Baquba.

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CNN's Chelsea J. Carter reported from Baghdad; Holly Yan reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN's Raja Razek, Ali Younes, Steve Almasy, Barbara Starr and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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