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Iraq still undecided on prime minister, discussions turn to refugee crisis

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has vowed to stand for a third four-year term as prime minister, but many of his critics have called for his removal, accusing him of monopolizing power and alienating Sunni and Kurdish minorities.

Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

Iraq's parliament postponed a discussion Tuesday to decide who will be the country's next prime minister, instead focusing on the growing refugee crisis as a lawmaker from one persecuted minority issued a tearful plea to "save us!"

With much of the north and west of the country under the control of the militant Islamic State group and its allies, there is an urgent need to form a new government and unite the feuding political parties. Tens of thousands from the Yazidi religious group have fled the militants' latest advances.

Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's State of Law bloc won the most votes in elections in April, but lawmakers still cannot agree on whether State of Law or the larger coalition it is part of should put forward the nominee for the country's top political office, Kurdish lawmaker Perwan Muslih told The Associated Press. The discussion over the new prime minister is now set for Thursday, she said.

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Al-Maliki has vowed to stand for a third four-year term as prime minister, but many of his critics have called for his removal, accusing him of monopolizing power and alienating Sunni and Kurdish minorities. The other parties in the National Iraqi Alliance coalition oppose al-Maliki.

The Islamic State captured the northern towns of Sinjar and Zumar on Saturday, and issued an ultimatum to tens of thousands of people from the minority Yazidi community to convert to Islam, pay a religious fine, flee their homes or face death. Yazidis follow an ancient religion with links to Zoroastrianism. At least 40 children from those displaced from Sinjar were killed in the violence, UNICEF said Tuesday.

Yazidi lawmaker Vian Dakheel issued a teary-eyed plea for help during discussions over the country's spiraling refugee crisis before fainting. "In the name of humanity, I call upon all of you to save us! Save us!" she shouted into a microphone. "'Our families have been slaughtered as all other Iraqis were massacred."

UNICEF reported Tuesday that more than 25,000 children are now stranded in mountains surrounding Sinjar and are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, including drinking water and sanitation services.

Last month, the U.N. said more than 500,000 people have been displaced by the violence since June, bringing the total this year to 1.4 million, including more than 230,000 Syrian refugees. That does not include refugees from Sinjar and other cities taken over in recent days.

Since the Islamic State group and its local allies captured Mosul in June, it has driven out ethnic and religious minorities and attacked mosques and shrines it says contradicted its strict interpretation of Islam.

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