BAGHDAD: Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki’s coalition should withdraw its support for his bid for a third term and pick another candidate, Shiite preacher Moqtada al-Sadr urged, amid parliamentary deadlock over the formation of a new government.
Maliki has come under mounting pressure since ISIS militants took swathes of the north and west of Iraq last month, relying on local tribal and other insurgents.
In a statement published on his website late Saturday, Sadr said Maliki “has involved himself and us in long security quarrels and big political crises” and suggested that preventing Maliki from serving a third term would be a “welcome step.”
“It is necessary to demonstrate the national and paternal spirit by aiming for a higher, wider goal from individuals and blocs and by that I mean changing the candidates,” said Sadr, who gained political influence during the U.S. occupation.
The radical preacher and his political allies had previously said that the next prime minister should be a Shiite chosen from outside of Maliki’s State of Law coalition.
“I remain convinced that the brothers in the State of Law coalition must present the candidate for prime minister ... because it is the biggest bloc within the National Alliance.”
State of Law is part of the National Alliance, a bloc comprising the biggest Shiite parties, including both Maliki’s list and his foes.
The United States, Iran, the United Nations and Iraq’s own Shiite religious figures have urged politicians to overcome their differences to face the insurgency.
Maliki’s main Shiite rivals say there is consensus among some in the Shiite coalition and among the Sunnis and Kurds against his bid for a third term.
“There is a wish by all political blocs except the State of Law ... [for] the change,” said Ali Shubber, a leading member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a Shiite party that came second to Maliki’s State of Law in April’s election.
Another Shiite politician, former premier Iyad Allawi, urged Maliki Saturday to give up his bid for a third term or risk Iraq’s dismemberment.A senior Iranian official said Sunday that Tehran supported Maliki’s bid to stay on, but that it was ready to back any other candidate chosen by Iraq’s parliament.
Maliki’s “State of Law coalition won first place in the last legislative elections ... [and] any decision that is taken in Iraq and has the support of parliament has Iran’s backing,” Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said. “If Mr. Maliki is chosen as prime minister, we will work hard together. If another person is chosen by parliament, the Islamic Republic of Iran will also support them. It’s an internal affair for Iraq,” he said.
The Iraqi parliament is to convene Tuesday to elect a speaker, president and prime minister.
Maliki has been prime minister since 2006 and last week vowed to “never give up on” his quest for a third term, despite critics blaming him for steering the Shiite-majority country toward all-out sectarian war.
Iran has said it is willing to provide Iraq advice and military assistance in the fight with the insurgents and opposes a breakup of Iraq, denouncing it as an Israeli plot. “We will never allow [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s dreams about the disintegration of Iraq and the region to come true,” Amir-Abdollahian said.
He added that Iran had warned Iraq’s Kurdish leaders against separatism, saying it was “in nobody’s interest.”
Amir-Abdollahian also criticized Washington for doing “nothing concrete to fight against terrorism.”
Government forces battled ISIS militants south of the rebel-held city of Tikrit, which the army has yet to retake after an offensive began on June 28.
A government spokesman said troops had killed 14 militants since Saturday in the Al-Dayoum and Wadi Shisheen areas near Tikrit and troops were reinforcing the village of Awja, recaptured three days ago, and preparing to push 8 km north into the city.