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Maliki tells troops not to 'intervene' in Iraqi leadership crisis


Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Tuesday told security forces not to intervene in Iraq’s leadership crisis, a day after he defiantly rejected a move by the president to name a new PM, calling it "a coup against the constitution".


In a statement  on his official website, Maliki urged army, police and security forces "to stay away from the political crisis and continue in their security and military duties to defend the country". Maliki is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

President Fouad Masoum on Monday asked deputy speaker Haider al-Abadi to replace Maliki as premier and form a new government.

Speaking to reporters in Sydney on Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry called for restraint. "There should be no use of force, no introduction of troops or militias into this moment of democracy for Iraq," Kerry said.

The UN's Iraq envoy Nickolay Mladenov also warned Iraq's military against interfering after troops loyal to Maliki deployed in strategic areas of Baghdad, blocking major boulevards as hundreds of Maliki supporters rallied in the streets.

The moves underscored fears that Maliki might try to hold on to power through force.

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

Vocal support for Abadi

But Maliki appeared ever more isolated as the international community rallied behind premier-designate Abadi.

US officials quickly signalled their readiness to support a new government in Iraq, with Vice President Joe Biden calling Abadi in the hours after his appointment to express Washington's "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 the Islamist militants now sweeping through parts of 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 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.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal on Tuesday called Abadi's nomination "good news". Saudi Arabia has long accused Maliki of fostering the conditions for Iraq's current jihadist insurgency through years of marginalising the Sunni minority.

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi also "welcomed" Abadi's appointment in a statement on Tuesday.

Iran's official IRNA news agency quoted Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the powerful Supreme National Security Council, as congratulating Iraq on choosing Abadi as its new premier. The Iranian foreign ministry also issued a statement urging Abadi to "rapidly unveil his cabinet" and pledging the Islamic republic's continued support.

A former supporter of Maliki's, Iran is a key powerbroker in Iraq and influential with many of its Shiite political parties. Tehran's apparent reversal increases the pressure on Maliki, who is unlikely to succeed in a campaign to remain in power without Iranian support. Iran was influential in ensuring that Maliki served a second term following an inconclusive general election in 2010.

"Maliki politically is finished," said Hayder al-Khoei, an associate fellow at Britain's Chatham House think tank. "I just can't see him staying, in terms of the legal, democratic framework."

But Khoei added that it would be a mistake to underestimate the forces Maliki has at his disposal. He has "a vast security network – he has intelligence men, security officers" who are "certainly not loyal to the state of Iraq", Khoei said. "They're there because they owe their jobs and their livelihoods to Maliki."

Khoei said that it remains to be seen how Maliki reacts to the political tides turning against him. "To give you an indication of how bad the situation is, many are now worried about Abadi's physical security," he told the Washington Post on Monday.

Iraqi unity at stake

Maliki's critics, from Washington to Riyadh, say he has systematically alienated Sunnis from the political process, thus fuelling support for the Sunni militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS or ISIL) who have now 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 Iraqi stability since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

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

Abadi, a Shiite, is a low-key figure who was educated at the University of Manchester. He served as the head of the parliamentary finance committee, as a political adviser to Maliki and as minister of communications.

His Facebook biography says his favourite quotation is “the key to leadership is tolerance”.

Iraq's political infighting could hamper efforts to stem further advances by the ISIS militants, who have continued to seize territory and killed hundreds of members of Iraq's Yazidi minority in recent weeks.

US President Barack Obama has said that Iraq's security forces need to regroup to mount an effective counter-offensive – which will also require a unified government in Baghdad that has the confidence of both the Iraqi military and the wider population.

Obama last week authorised air strikes on the ISIS jihadists to prevent a “genocide” while US aircraft began air-dropping food and water to the tens of thousands of fleeing Yazidis believed to be trapped by the militants in the Sinjar mountains.



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