New political crisis as Iraqi president calls on newcomer to form government

President calls on Shiite newcomer to form new government, angering Nouri al-Maliki

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 5:18pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2014, 10:43am

Iraq seemed to plunge into a deeper political crisis after President Fuad Massoum yesterday asked Haider al-Abadi, the Shiite coalition's nominee for prime minister, to form a government hours after Nouri al-Maliki rejected calls to drop his bid for a third term as prime minister.

A member of Maliki's political bloc said they rejected the new prime minister. "The nomination is illegal and a breach of the constitution. We will go to the federal court to object to the nomination," said Hussein al-Maliki, who is Maliki's son-in-law.

Iraq's highest court earlier issued a ruling suggesting Maliki's State of Law Shiite bloc is the biggest in parliament and therefore was entitled to nominate a candidate for prime minister.

The political developments came as senior US officials said the Obama administration, which launched airdrops and air strikes last week to support Kurdish and Iraqi forces battling militants from the Islamic State group, had begun directly providing weapons to the Kurdish peshmerga forces who have started to make gains against the al-Qaeda breakaway group.

Iraqi television showed footage of the president shaking hands with Abadi and telling him: "I hope you will be successful in forming a broader-based government." Abadi was given 30 days to form a new government and present it to parliament for approval.

A senior US diplomat with responsibility for Iraq congratulated Abadi and said the United States "stands ready to fully support a new and inclusive Iraqi government". Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Brett McGurk made the comments after Secretary of State John Kerry withdrew support from Maliki, telling him not to hinder the political process.

But Maliki, lifted from obscurity to take office during the US occupation in 2006, has made clear he will not go quietly.

Speaking on Iraqi television on Sunday night before the latest development, Maliki accused Massoum of violating the constitution by failing to name a prime minister within 15 days.

"This attitude represents a coup on the constitution and the political process in a country that is governed by a democratic and federal system," Maliki said. "The deliberate violation of the constitution by the president will have grave consequences on the unity, the sovereignty and the independence of Iraq." He added that the political process was entering a dark tunnel.

Political haggling in Iraq is hurting government attempts to curb advances by Islamic State which has been ravaging the north of the country.

The group, which sees Iraq's majority Shiites as infidels who deserve to be killed, has ruthlessly moved through one town after another, using tanks and heavy weapons it seized from soldiers who fled in their thousands.

Yesterday, police said the fighters had seized the town of Jalawla, 115km northeast of Baghdad, after driving out the forces of the autonomous Kurdish regional government.

While US strikes have slowed Islamic State advances in the north, the group still holds vast swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, including key installations such as dams, military outposts and Iraq's biggest northern city.

Kurdish forces on Sunday were able to retake the towns of Makhmour and Gwer, south of Arbil, where militants retreated after US air strikes, according to the Kurdish news agency Rudaw.

In Britain, pressure mounted for Prime Minister David Cameron to do more on Iraq, with some members of his own party urging him to recall parliament from its summer break to consider action against Islamic militants.

The Daily Mail newspaper featured a photograph of the prime minister walking barefoot down a beach under the headline: "Now UK must join bomb raids on fanatics, say MPs."

Reuters, Associated Press, Agence France-Presse