BAGHDAD: Iraq’s president named Haidar al-Abadi as the country’s new prime minister to end Nouri al-Maliki’s eight-year rule Monday, but the veteran leader refused to go after deploying militias and special forces on the streets, creating a dangerous political showdown in Baghdad.
U.S. President Barack Obama said he and Vice President Joseph Biden spoke to Abadi and urged him to form inclusive government.
Obama also said the United States had successfully carried out targeted airstrikes to support Kurdish fighters in their battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), and conducted humanitarian relief missions to aid thousands of stranded women and children.
“The only lasting solution is for Iraqis to come together and form an inclusive government,” he said, after criticism that Maliki has ruled divisively to advance Iraq’s Shiite majority. “I urge all Iraqi political leaders to work peacefully through the political process in the days ahead.”
Maliki, meanwhile, slammed the Iraqi president’s decision as a “dangerous violation” of the constitution.
Delivering a speech broadcast on television and flanked by political allies Maliki promised “we will fix the mistake.”
Maliki also slammed Washington, saying the U.S. “stood [on] the side of violating the constitution.”
According to the White House, Abadi told Biden he intended “to move expeditiously to form a broad-based, inclusive government capable of countering the threat” posed by ISIS.
Maliki’s Dawa Party declared his replacement illegal, and his son-in-law said he would overturn it in court.
Maliki is blamed by his erstwhile allies in Washington and Tehran for driving the alienated Sunni minority into a revolt that threatens to destroy the country.
The new political crisis comes just days after Washington launched its first military action in Iraq since pulling its troops out in 2011. U.S. warplanes have bombed Sunni insurgents from ISIS, who have marched through northern and western Iraq since June. The U.S. has said it is trying to halt an impending genocide against the Yezidi minority, many of whose members were trapped on a barren mountain for days.
But although the airstrikes have slowed the operational tempo of the jihadists, it is unlikely to substantially weaken the group, the Pentagon said Monday.
“We assess that U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq have slowed ISIL’s operational tempo and temporarily disrupted their advances toward the province of Arbil,” Army Lieutenant General William Mayville Jr., a senior Pentagon official, said, using an alternative acronym for ISIS.
“However, these strikes are unlikely to affect ISIL’s overall capabilities or its operations in other areas of Iraq and Syria.”
President Fouad Masoum asked Abadi to form a government that could win the support of all groups in a parliament elected in April.
Abadi urged national unity against the “barbaric” ISIS: “We all have to cooperate to stand against this terrorist campaign launched on Iraq and to stop all terrorist groups,” he said in broadcast remarks after meeting Masoum.
As police and elite armed units, many equipped and trained by the United States, locked down the capital’s streets, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry aimed a stark warning at Maliki against fighting to hold on to power.
“There should be no use of force, no introduction of troops or militias in this moment of democracy for Iraq,” Kerry said. “The government formation process is critical in terms of sustaining stability and calm in Iraq and our hope is that Mr. Maliki will not stir those waters. A U.S. official insisted Washington had not been involved in the selection of Abadi, but said “everybody is pretty relieved that they have chosen somebody and that it was not Maliki.”
On the ground Monday, police said ISIS fighters had seized the town of Jalawla, 115 km northeast of Baghdad, after driving out the forces of the autonomous Kurdish regional government.
In a separate development, Britain has proposed a draft U.N. resolution aimed at punishing recruitment and financing of foreign fighters for ISIS and all other terrorist groups associated with Al-Qaeda.
The early draft, obtained Monday by the Associated Press, calls on all countries to take measures to suppress the flow of foreign fighters to these groups and demands the immediate withdrawal of those already in Iraq and Syria.
It also demands that all militants from ISIS, the Nusra Front, and other Al-Qaeda linked groups “cease all atrocities and terrorist acts.” The proposed resolution expresses the Security Council’s readiness to impose sanctions on those recruiting, supporting and fighting for terrorist groups.