Iraqi government forces have mounted their biggest push yet to regain ground lost to Sunni rebels belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

Soldiers backed by tanks and helicopter gunships have launched an offensive to retake the northern city of Tikrit, after a series of demoralising defeats.

Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s determination to crush his enemies is influencing the attitudes of regional and international players who are bound to the crisis.

The prime minister has resisted encouragement from the US, and within his own ranks, to form a more inclusive national unity government.

Reporting from Erbil in northern Iraq, Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr said: "Washington is in a difficult position. The Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant may be leading the war against the central government. But Sunni groups are also taking part, and the majority of the Sunnis support the rebellion against the Shia-led government. [The US] … cannot be seen as picking sides in what is seen as a Sunni-Shia war."

The US now finds itself facing something of a dilemma: funding a war against President Bashar al Assad in Syria - but aligned with Assad and Maliki in the fight against ISIL.

So has Maliki’s position been strengthened by the crisis in Iraq and is the US resigned to dealing with him, or will the process begin to replace him when parliament meets for the first time on Tuesday.


Presenter: Sami Zeidan


Mark Kimmitt - a former US state department official and retired Brigadier General.

Saad Jawad - an Iraqi political scientist at the London School of Economics Middle East Centre.

Ayad al Qazzaz - a professor at California State University and a specialist in Arab culture and politics.



Source: Al Jazeera