A Shi'ite volunteer wearing a mask, who has joined the Iraqi army to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants from the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), looks on during a parade on a street in Kanaan, Diyala province, June 26, 2014.
Insurgents brought down an army helicopter over the northern city of Tikrit on Sunday as the military sent in tanks to try to dislodge them on second day of a major pushback against a Sunni militant takeover of large stretches of Iraq.
The army retreated to the south, BBC reports, striking a blow to the first major offensive to counter an Sunni insurgency led by extremist ISIS militants.
The clashes are ongoing. Iraqi forces are bolstered by Iranian-trained militias.
Meanwhile in Baghdad, threatened by the rebel advance, top Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers scrambled to agree cabinet nominations before parliament meets on Tuesday to try to prevent the rebel advance threatening Iraq's future as a unitary state.
Iraq's top Shiite cleric has told political leaders to pick a new prime minister by Tuesday, and Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) General Qassem Soleimani — who calling the shots in Baghdad — has "a list of potential prime minister candidates for Iran's leadership to consider ... [and] is expected to return within days to inform Iraqi politicians of Tehran's favorite."
Iraq's forces are racing against time as Sunni insurgents who loathe Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government consolidate their grip on the north and west.
Maliki's political future will be the most contentious issue.
Troops backed by helicopter gunships began the assault on Tikrit, the birthplace of former President Saddam Hussein, on Saturday, to try to take it back from insurgents who have swept to within driving range of Baghdad.
The army sent in tanks and helicopters to battle ISIL militants near the University of Tikrit in the city’s north on Sunday, security sources said. Two witnesses said they saw a military helicopter gunned down and crash near a market.
Earlier on Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussain al-Shahristani, one of Iraq's most senior politicians, faulted the U.S. for not doing enough to bolster the country's military.
"Yes, there has been a delay from the Americans in handing over the contracted arms. We told them, 'You once did an air bridge to send arms to your ally Israel, so why don’t you give us the contracted arms in time?'" he told al-Hurra television.
U.S. officials have disputed similar statements from Iraqi officials in the past and say they have done everything possible to ensure the country is equipped with modern weaponry.
In a sign of Iraq's attempts to bolster its lackluster air force, five Russian Sukhoi jets were delivered to Baghdad late on Saturday, which state television said "would be used in the coming days to strike ISIL terrorist groups".
A Reuters photographer saw the jets unloaded from a transport plane at a military airport in Baghdad as Russian and Iraqi soldiers stood on the tarmac. Iraq has relied largely on helicopters to counter militants and has few aircraft that can fire advanced missiles.