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Maliki defiant as Iraqi president names new PM


Iraq's president moved to replace embattled premier Nuri al-Maliki (pictured) on Monday, asking deputy speaker Haider al-Abadi to serve as PM and form a new government. Maliki called the move a "dangerous violation" of the constitution.


State television showed footage of President Fouad Masoum shaking hands with Abadi and telling him: “I hope you will be successful in forming a broader-based government.”

Maliki called the president's decision a "dangerous violation" of the constitution. In a televised speech showing him flanked by his allies in parliament and broadcast just hours after Masoum nominated the deputy speaker, Maliki promised that "we will fix the mistake".

He accused Masoum of blocking his reappointment as prime minister and of waging "a coup against the constitution and the political process".

Maliki also accused Washington of supporting the move, saying the US "stood [on] the side of violating the constitution".

"We assure all the Iraqi people and the political groups that there is no importance or value to this nomination,'' he said.

Maliki's supporters had earlier said they would go to court to fight the decision. "We will not stay silent," said a member of Maliki's political bloc. 

"The nomination is illegal and a breach of the constitution. We will go to the federal court to object to the nomination," Hussein al-Maliki, Maliki's son-in-law, told Reuters.

Security forces loyal to Maliki deployed on the streets of Baghdad, closing two of the capital's main avenues as hundreds of his supporters rallied on Monday, underscoring fears that the premier may seek to stay in power through force.

US, UN congratulate Abadi

US officials have already signalled Washington's readiness to support a new government in Iraq, with Vice President Joe Biden calling Abadi to express "full support" and congratulate him on his nomination.

According to the White House, Abadi told Biden that he intends "to move expeditiously to form a broad-based, inclusive government capable of countering the threat" posed by Islamist militants in Iraq.

Speaking to reporters in Sydney, Secretary of State John Kerry said the US stands "absolutely squarely behind" Masoum and called for restraint. "There should be no use of force, no introduction of troops or militias into this moment of democracy for Iraq.''

A spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the UN chief also welcomed Abadi's nomination and urged the creation of a prosperous and stable Iraq that is inclusive of all religious and ethnic minorities.

“He encourages Dr. al-Abadi, prime minister-designate, to form a broad-based government acceptable to all components of Iraqi society,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

Sunnis alienated

Maliki has repeatedly rejected calls for him to drop his bid for a third term as prime minister. Sunnis, Kurds and even fellow Shiites have called for him to step aside to allow a less divisive figure to take over.

Iraq's Shiite National Alliance parliamentary bloc chose Abadi to be its nominee for prime minister earlier on Monday.

Maliki's critics, including the United States, say he has alienated Sunnis politically, prompting many of them to support the Sunni militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS or ISIL), who have seized towns and cities across northern Iraq and have threatened to march on Baghdad. The Islamist group, which now calls itself the Islamic State, poses the biggest threat to Iraq's stability since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Sectarian violence has again become widespread in Iraq, reaching levels not seen since unrest peaked in 2006-2007 in the era following the US-led invasion.

Abadi is a low-key figure who spent time in Britain. Educated at the University of Manchester, Abadi served as the head of parliament’s finance committee, a political adviser to the prime minister and minister of communications. His Facebook biography says his favourite quotation is “the key to leadership is tolerance”.

Earlier on Monday, Iraq’s highest court issued a ruling saying that Maliki’s State of Law Shiite bloc is the biggest in parliament and therefore was entitled to nominate a candidate for premier.

US strikes against jihadists

The political infighting could hamper efforts to stem advances by Sunni militants who have seized a large swath of northern and western Iraq in recent weeks.

President Barack Obama warned Americans on Saturday that the new campaign to bring security in Iraq requires military and political changes and "is going to be a long-term project".

Obama said Iraqi security forces need to revamp to effectively mount an offensive, which requires a unified government in Baghdad that has the confidence of both the Iraqi military and the wider population.

The United States launched a fourth round of air strikes on Sunday against militant vehicles and mortars firing on Arbil as part of efforts to blunt the militants’ advance and protect American personnel in and around the Kurdish capital.

US war planes and drones have also attacked militants firing on minority Yazidis around Sinjar, which is in the far west of the country near the Syrian border.

Iraq’s human rights minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, said on Sunday that ISIS militants had killed at least 500 Yazidis, burying some victims alive in a mass grave found in northern Iraq.

France pledges aid

The president of the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government, Massoud Barzani, met on Sunday with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who travelled to Baghdad and Arbil pledging France’s commitment to providing humanitarian aid.

Fabius also met with Maliki and called on Iraqi leaders to unite in the face of the escalating crisis.

"The marching order is solidarity," Fabius said. He called on Iraqis to form a "government of broad unity so that all Iraqis feel represented and together lead the battle against terrorism".

A week ago Maliki ordered the Iraqi air force to support Kurdish forces against the militants in a rare instance of cooperation between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government, which have for years been locked in disputes over oil and territory.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)


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