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Haider Al Abadi Named To Replace Maliki As Troops Take To Baghdad’s Streets

By Adam Ashton, McClatchy Washington Bureau

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s political crisis deepened Monday, with Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki entrenching himself in the capital’s International Zone while the coalition his political party belongs nominated a rival to succeed him as head of the government.

The country’s highest court reportedly ruled against a demand by Maliki that his State of Law party, and not the National Iraqi Alliance coalition, be given the task of choosing the prime minister.

That ruling cleared the way for the alliance, parliament’s largest Shiite Muslim political bloc, to nominate former Maliki ally Haider al Abadi to become prime minister. The alliance forwarded the nomination to Iraqi President Fouad Massoum Monday afternoon, and Moussam announced the nomination shortly afterwards.

Abadi, who is a member of Maliki’s State of Law party and a former party spokesman, was named only hours after Maliki announced in a late-night address that he would file a legal complaint against Massoum for failing to appoint a prime minister from Maliki’s party by an earlier constitutional deadline.

At the same time, Maliki called on elite special forces to reinforce the sprawling government complex known as the International Zone, which houses parliament and Maliki’s home.

Main roads in the city were closed and troops were out in force both on foot and in trucks mounted with machine guns. Nicholay Mladenov, the United Nations special envoy to Iraq, released a statement Monday urging Iraq’s military to stay out of the political dispute.

Maliki’s moves also drew a sharp rebuke from Secretary of State John Kerry, who is traveling in Australia. U.S. officials have lobbied for weeks for Maliki to step down, contending the country needs a new leader to unite Iraq against the threat posed by militants in the Islamic State.

“We stand absolutely squarely behind President Massoum (who) has the responsibility for upholding the constitution of Iraq,” Kerry said.

Kerry said Maliki’s actions could lead the United States to withhold further military assistance just days after American jets and drones began launching air strikes against Islamic State positions in northern Iraq.

“One thing all Iraqis need to know, that there will be little international support of any kind whatsoever for anything that deviates from the legitimate constitution process that is in place and being worked on now,” he said.

By tradition, Iraq chooses a Kurd to be president, a Shiite lawmaker to be prime minster and a Sunni to be speaker of parliament. Massoum, a Kurd, asked the National Iraqi Alliance to nominate a prime minister but the broad coalition failed to settle on a candidate until Monday. The deadline was Sunday.

Maliki has become a divisive figure in the country. Sunni Arabs accuse him of becoming a dictator while favoring the country’s Shiite majority over the large Sunni population that dominates Iraq’s west and north. Sunni extremists in the Islamic State have taken large swaths of territory in that region.

Maliki counters that he’s defending the country from Sunni terrorists who launch suicide bombing attacks and attempt to seize territory from his government.

Thousands of young men marched through central Baghdad Monday morning, chanting their support for Maliki while toting portraits of the prime minister. Many of them appeared to take buses to the city’s Firdos Square to participate in the rally.

“All of the nation is with you, Nouri al Maliki,” they chanted.

They were encircled by Iraqi soldiers and police, some on foot and some in trucks with mounted machine guns. The security forces tried to stay out of photos and videos being taken by Iraqi reporters at the rally.

The Supreme Court ruling against Maliki recalled a 2010 decision when Maliki clung to office despite not having won the most votes. In that case, Maliki argued that the National Iraqi Alliance, and not his party, should be selected to choose the prime minister because its coalition of Shiite parties had more seats than a rival bloc.

In deciding Monday’s case, the court let the 2010 decision stand.

McClatchy special correspondent Laith Hammoudi contributed to this report.

AFP Photo/Amer Al-Saedi

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U.S. Strikes Continue Against Islamic State In Iraq

By Adam Ashton, McClatchy Foreign Staff

BAGHDAD — More American air strikes pounded Islamic State positions in Northern Iraq on Sunday while lawmakers in Baghdad struggled to choose a prime minister to lead them in forming a new government.

U.S. Central Command reported that piloted and unmanned aircraft carried out four strikes against militants outside of the Kurdish city of Irbil early Sunday, hitting Islamic State armored vehicles and a mortar position.

Kurdish leaders reported that the strikes helped them retake ground they had lost to the Islamic State, reclaiming the villages of Makhmur and Gwer.

“We are so proud,” said Serwan Abdullah Ismail, a Kurdish member of parliament who added that he wrote a thank-you letter to President Barack Obama for approving the air strikes.

The fighting unfolded as lawmakers were on a path to limp past another deadline to decide whether embattled Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki should receive a third term leading the government.

His traditional allies in the Shiite bloc called the National Iraqi Alliance have been meeting for several days to choose his successor.

They were supposed to nominate a prime minister by late Sunday according to a constitutional deadline, but most said the decision would not come until later this week.

Maliki is digging in to hold on to his job. Thousands of people marched through Baghdad on Saturday to demonstrate their support for his third term, and his face is plastered throughout the city on banners linking him to the state’s armed forces.

He has cast himself as the defender of the country in a troubled time, and there is no clear candidate to take his place. The National Iraqi National Alliance effectively gets to choose the prime minister because its members hold the most seats in parliament.

Some lawmakers closest to Maliki are sticking with him, but there are divisions within the alliance and many say Iraq needs new leadership to overcome the Islamic State.

“It’s clear that every bloc rejected him,” said Yasir Saleh, a political adviser to a group of Shiite lawmakers within the National Iraqi Alliance.

Maliki “knows that. A new prime minister will absolutely be better. He’d have a new chance with people.”

Critics call Maliki a divisive figure who alienated the country’s Sunni minority. Sunni extremists have taken over large swaths of the country’s west and north while carrying out frequent bombings within Baghdad.

Maliki’s “staying in power will be the end of Iraq,” said Maysoon al Damluji, a Sunni lawmaker.

U.S. officials have made their preference for a new prime minister clear to Iraqi lawmakers. Obama in his remarks since approving limited military intervention on Thursday has said Iraq should choose a new prime minister to unite the country.

That’s one reason Iraqi lawmakers say it’s time for Maliki to go. They believe the U.S. will provide more assistance if parliament chooses a different prime minister.

“No doubt about that,” Saleh said. “This is good news. The bad news is (the U.S. intervention) is limited.”

So far, the strikes are popular among Iraqi lawmakers who say they wish the United State had intervened earlier to prevent the Islamic State’s swift drive through central and northern Iraq’s Sunni Arab provinces.

America “should have a major role in building a new Iraqi state. Otherwise you should leave because you are doing nothing,” said Razzaq al Haidari, a member of parliament from the Shiite Badr bloc.

His party is one that pushed for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq during the American occupation. Now, he said, “We call on the U.S., as the builder of democracy, to the defense of our country.”

Islamic State has displaced hundreds of thousands of Shiite Arabs, Christians, Kurds and Yazidis since it overran the city of Mosul in June.

Human Rights Watch estimated that the Islamic State advance into Kurdish territory sent more than 150,000 Yazidis — members of a Kurdish religious minority — fleeing from their villages. Witnesses from Mosul have reported seeing Yazidi women auctioned off by militants.

Some lawmakers vented that Shi’a and Sunni Muslims who don’t support Islamic State deserved American protection well before Obama’s decision to protect U.S. interests in the Kurdish city of Irbil.

“We feel sorry that America didn’t act from the very beginning. Why did they wait until the (Kurds) were hit? They should have acted sooner,” said Jamila Obeidi, a Sunni lawmaker from Mosul.

AFP Photo/Safin Hamed