BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Wednesday his government has allocated more than $850 million to assist those displaced by last month's militant takeover of much of the country, and called on Sunnis remaining in those areas to take up arms against the insurgents.
In his weekly address, al-Maliki said his Cabinet is exerting huge efforts to ease the suffering of displaced people, mostly Shiites and Christians who were driven out by last month's lightning offensive waged by the extremist Islamic State group and allied militants. He said two installments of 500 billion dinars ($429 million) each have been allocated to aid the internally displaced.
"We are sad for what our people are undergoing, but the government has taken decisions, spent money in an unlimited way and formed a ministerial committee to deliver aid and take care of the displaced people," he said.
The rapid advance by the extremist group, which captured Iraq's second-largest city Mosul and overran much of northern and western Iraq, plunged the country into its worst crisis since the withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of 2011, with more than 1 million Iraqis now classified as internally displaced or refugees.
The Sunni militants have carved out a large expanse of land straddling the Iraq-Syria border and declared a self-styled Islamic caliphate. But their offensive eventually slowed upon reaching predominantly Shiite areas of Iraq.
Al-Maliki called on those living in Sunni-majority areas overrun by the Islamic State group and allied militants to fight the insurgents.
"I say to the people of these areas, your participation in clearing these areas has become essential and necessary," al-Maliki said.
Al-Maliki, a Shiite who has ruled the country since 2006, is under pressure to step aside and not seek a third four-year term despite his bloc winning the most votes in April's parliamentary election.
Many in Iraq accuse al-Maliki's Shiite-led government of helping fuel the crisis by failing to promote reconciliation with the Sunni Muslim minority, and say he has become too polarizing a figure to unite the country and face down the militant threat.
Shortly before sunset Wednesday, a car bomb exploded near a line of small restaurants in the Baghdad's Shiite neighborhood of Sadr city, killing eight people and wounding 20, police and hospital officials said.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.