Baghdad: Iraqi President Fuad Masoum Monday asked Deputy Speaker Haidar al-Abadi to form the next government but the politicians allied to outgoing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki rejected the premier-designate, raising concerns about a political struggle in the country facing insurgency from Sunni jihadists.
The state-run Iraqiya channel showed Masoum signing a letter granting power to form the next government to Abadi, the Shia coalition`s nominee for prime minister, Xinhua reported.
Salim al-Jubouri, the Iraqi speaker of parliament, and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the head of the Iraqi National Alliance, were present at the televised meeting.
"The country is now in your hands," Massoum told Abadi.
The deputy speaker thanked Masoum and pledged to do his best to form a government within a month, a time span stipulated in the constitution.
Earlier, Shia lawmakers in the umbrella organisation the Iraqi National Alliance, which includes Maliki`s State of the Law bloc, sent a letter signed by 127 lawmakers, out of more than 170 members in the alliance, to President Masoum, nominating Abadi for the post to replace Maliki, according to Baghdad satellite channel.
However, the politicians allied to Maliki rejected the new prime minister, saying he is not representing them and has no legitimacy.
"Haidar al-Abadi is only representing himself and does not represent the State of the Law Coalition," Khalaf Abdul Samad, a member of Maliki`s Dawa Party, said in a statement.
"We reserve our right to file a lawsuit against whoever violated the constitution," Samad said with presence of a group of Maliki Dawa politicians, including Maliki himself.
The move is likely to increase political tension in the country. The Shia National Alliance had won the most parliament seats in the April elections and Maliki had seen himself as keeping the post for a third term. But he has been accused by critics of steering the country toward a sectarian war.
He had earlier accused the president of committing a "clear constitutional violation" by missing a deadline to ask the biggest bloc in parliament to nominate a prime minister.
In a boost to Maliki`s bid to stay on for a third term, a top Iraqi court Monday ruled that his group is the largest in the country`s parliament.
The decision meant that President Masoum, who Maliki criticised for not intervening after parliament failed to appoint him, should have invited him to form a government.
Pro-Maliki security forces were Monday seen deployed in strategic areas in the capital city, in particular the areas surrounding the Green Zone, which houses most Iraqi top offices and ministries, as well as the US embassy, Al Jazeera reported.
Dozens of people loyal to Maliki took to the streets in Fardous Square in central Baghdad, urging a third-term for Maliki. Many threatened to hold sit-ins in the capital if Maliki is not asked to form a new cabinet.
Maliki had been under increasing pressure to give up his attempt for a third term.
The European Union (EU) welcomed the nomination of Abadi as prime minister designate of Iraq. "We welcome Iraqi President Fuad Masum`s decision today to nominate Abadi as Prime Minister designate of Iraq," an EU spokesperson said in a statement.
The development came as the jihadist insurgency in northern Iraq continues to cause international concern. Islamic State (IS) militants continue to make substantial gains in Iraq. The Sunni insurgents Monday took control of a town in Iraq`s eastern province of Diyala after fierce overnight clashes with Kurdish security forces.
Dozens of IS militants, backed by some 20 suicide bombers and three car bombs, stormed the Peshmerga Kurdish security forces in the town of Jalawlaa, some 130 km northeast of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, and seized the town after the withdrawal of Peshmerga fighters, a security source said.
The fall of Jalawlaa came a day after the Kurdish forces carried out a major offensive against the IS militants and retook the towns of Makhmour and Gwer near the city of Arbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. The militants earlier captured both towns, posing an imminent threat to the Kurdish capital.