Iraq`s al-Maliki steps down, backs rival for PM

The decision by Iraq`s embattled Nouri al-Maliki to step down as prime minister revived hopes for the formation of a new government that could take on a growing insurgency by Sunni militants that has engulfed much of the country.

PTI| Last Updated: Aug 15, 2014, 21:17 PM IST

Baghdad: The decision by Iraq`s embattled Nouri al-Maliki to step down as prime minister revived hopes today for the formation of a new government that could take on a growing insurgency by Sunni militants that has engulfed much of the country.

The move, which followed weeks of international and domestic pressure, defuses a political deadlock that has plunged Iraq into uncertainty at a time of the nation`s greatest turmoil since the 2011 withdrawal of US troops.

Al-Maliki announced he was giving up his post on national television late yesterday, standing alongside senior members of his Shiite Islamic Dawa Party, including his rival and premier-designate Haider al-Abadi.

He said he was stepping aside in favour of his "brother," in order to "facilitate the political process and government formation."

Al-Abadi, a veteran Shiite lawmaker, now faces the immense challenge of trying to unite Iraqi politicians as he tries to cobble together a Cabinet over the next 30 days. 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 monopolising power and pursuing a fiercely pro-Shiite agenda that has alienated the Sunni minority.

The United States, the UN 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.

The crisis in Baghdad escalated when al-Maliki`s Shiite alliance backed al-Abadi to replace him, and the incumbent threatened legal action, saying the attempt to push him out was a violation of the constitution.

But in a meeting of his party earlier yesterday, al-Maliki agreed to endorse al-Abadi and drop the lawsuit, two senior lawmakers from his State of Law parliamentary bloc, Hussein al-Maliki and Khalaf Abdul-Samad, told The Associated Press.

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.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the move "sets the stage for a historic and peaceful transition of power in Iraq."

The challenges for al-Abadi are looming. "The problems and crises left by al-Maliki are huge," said Aziz Jaber, a political sciences professor at Baghdad`s Mustansiriyah University. "The first thing al-Abadi must do is foster real national reconciliation and defuse anger among many Iraqis affected by al-Maliki`s unwise policies."

The UN Security Council urged al-Abadi to work swiftly to form "an inclusive government that represents all segments of the Iraqi population and that contributes to finding a viable and sustainable solution to the country`s current challenges."