BAGHDAD - A bloc comprising Iraq's biggest Shi'ite parties is close to nominating a prime minister, the deputy speaker of parliament said on Monday, directly challenging Nuri al-Maliki who has refused to give up his bid for a third term.

Critics accuse Maliki of pursuing a sectarian agenda which has sidelined minority Sunni Muslims and prompted some of them to support Islamic State militants, whose latest sweep through northern Iraq has alarmed the Baghdad government and its Western allies, prompting U.S. air strikes in recent days.

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