Iraq: Al-Maliki steps down, gives up post to rival
SAMEER N. YACOUB and QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, AP
August 15, 2014, 1:43 pm TWN
The move defuses a political deadlock that has plunged Iraq into uncertainty and opens way for the formation of a new government that could take on a growing insurgency by Sunni militants that has engulfed much of the country.
Al-Maliki made the announcement on national television late Thursday, standing alongside senior members of his Islamic Dawa Party, including rival Haider al-Abadi. He said he was stepping aside in favor of his "brother," in order to "facilitate the political process and government formation."
The premier-designate al-Abadi, a veteran Shiite lawmaker, now faces the immense challenge of trying to unite Iraqi politicians. The country's major political factions deeply distrust each other and the army seems unable to regain territory in the north and west taken by militants from the Islamic State group.
Al-Maliki had been struggling for weeks to stay on for a third four-year term as prime minister amid an attempt by opponents to push him out, accusing him of monopolizing power and pursuing a fiercely pro-Shiite agenda that has alienated the Sunni minority.
The United States, the U.N. and a broad array of political factions in Iraq had backed al-Abadi, saying only a new leader could unify a country under siege from the Islamic State extremists who have captured large swaths of Iraqi territory.
Al-Maliki said his decision reflected a desire to "safeguard the high interests of the country," adding that he would not be the cause of any bloodshed.
His refusal to give up the post after eight years in power had provoked a political crisis that escalated this week in Baghdad. The pressure intensified when his Shiite political alliance backed al-Abadi to replace him, and President Fouad Massoum nominated al-Abadi on Monday to form the next government. Al-Maliki threatened legal action against the president for what he said was a violation of the constitution.
But in a meeting of his party earlier Thursday, al-Maliki agreed to endorse al-Abadi, two senior lawmakers from his State of Law parliamentary bloc -- Hussein al-Maliki and Khalaf Abdul-Samad -- told The Associated Press. The two said al-Maliki also agreed to drop a suit before the constitutional court challenging al-Abadi's nomination.
The White House commended al-Maliki's move and expressed hope that the power shift "can set Iraq on a new path and unite its people" against the threat from Islamic militants, national security adviser Susan Rice said in a statement.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the move "sets the stage for a historic and peaceful transition of power in Iraq."