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Iraq PM designate gains support as Maliki bid falters

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's premier designate was gaining widespread support from countries hoping political reconciliation will undercut jihadists, as Iran Tuesday appeared to further dash Nuri al-Maliki's hopes of clinging to power.

Washington urged Maliki's successor, Haidar al-Abadi, to rapidly form a broad-based government able to unite Iraqis in the fight against jihadist-led militants who have overrun swathes of the country.

The United States, and other countries, said they were working to deliver much-needed arms to the Kurds, who are fighting the Islamic State (IS) on several fronts.

Abadi came from behind in a protracted and acrimonious race to become Iraq's new premier when President Fuad Masum Monday accepted his nomination and tasked him with forming a government.

He has 30 days to build a team that will face the daunting task of defusing sectarian tensions and, in the words of U.S. President Barack Obama, convincing the Sunni Arab minority that IS “is not the only game in town.”

“We are urging him to form a new cabinet as swiftly as possible and the U.S. stands ready to support a new and inclusive Iraqi government and particularly its fight against IS,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Sydney Tuesday.

He also reiterated Washington's stance that U.S. airstrikes launched last week were not a prelude to the reintroduction of American combat forces.

In a signal that a key ally of Maliki's was now supporting his rival Abadi, Iran on Tuesday said it backed the legal process that led to him being replaced.

“The framework provided by the Iraqi constitution stipulates that the prime minister has been chosen by the majority group in the parliament,” said Ali Shamkhani, secretary and representative of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Time of Crisis

The political transition comes at a time of crisis for Iraq.

After seizing the main northern city of Mosul in early June and sweeping through much of the Sunni heartland, jihadist militants bristling with U.S.-made military equipment they captured from retreating Iraqi troops launched another onslaught this month.

They attacked Christian, Yazidi, Turkmen and Shabak minorities west, north and east of Mosul, sparking a mass exodus that took the number of people displaced in Iraq this year soaring past the million mark.

A week of devastating gains saw the jihadists take the country's largest dam and advance to within striking distance of the autonomous Kurdish region.

They also attacked the large town of Sinjar, forcing thousands of mainly Yazidi civilians to run up a mountain and hide there with little food and water.

U.S. strikes and cross-border Kurdish cooperation yielded early results on several fronts, with thousands of Yazidis managing to escape their mountain death trap and Kurdish troops beginning to claw back lost ground.

The United States has been leading an increasingly international effort to deliver humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands who have poured into Kurdistan over the past week alone.

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