Double snub ends Maliki’s reign as Iraqi leader

Beleaguered prime minister’s own Shiite bloc reject him, then president names successor to lead country against Islamic State militants.
Iraqis chant pro-government slogans and display placards bearing a picture of embattled prime minister Nouri Al Maliki during a demonstration in Baghdad on August 11, 2014. AP
Iraqis chant pro-government slogans and display placards bearing a picture of embattled prime minister Nouri Al Maliki during a demonstration in Baghdad on August 11, 2014. AP

BAGHDAD // Nouri Al Maliki’s eight-year leadership of Iraq ended in ignominy on Monday when he was snubbed by his own Shiite coalition and the president chose his successor as prime minister.

“The country is in your hands,” president Fouad Massoum told Haider Al Ibadi, who was selected by a coalition of Shiite political parties. He was given 30 days to form a new government.

The ceremony came hours after a beleaguered Mr Al Maliki had accused the president of “a coup against the constitution and the political process” by refusing to reappoint him prime minister for a third term.

Mr Al Maliki, 64, who became prime minister in 2006, is unlikely to go quietly. He deployed his elite security forces in Baghdad on Monday as hundreds of his supporters took to the streets, raising fears that he might use force to stay in power. Naming his replacement was a “dangerous violation” of the constitution, he said, and “we will fix the mistake”.

The US secretary of state John Kerry called for restraint. “What we urge the people of Iraq to do is to be calm,” Mr Kerry said. “There should be no use of force, no introduction of troops or militias into this moment of democracy.”

The US has begun directly providing weapons to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq who have lost ground to extremist militant fighters from the Islamic State.

US air strikes over the past few days have protected refugees fleeing to Kurdish areas of Syria, and have reinvigorated the Kurdish peshmerga fighters.

They retook two towns, Makhmour and Al Gweir, 45 kilometres from the Kurdish capital of Erbil, in a rare military victory after weeks of retreat.

Mr Al Maliki is accused of contributing to the crisis facing Iraq by monopolising power and pursuing a sectarian agenda that alienated the country’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities.

Mr Al Ibadi, who pledged to form a government to “protect the Iraqi people,” was nominated as prime minister by the Iraqi National Alliance, a coalition of which Mr Al Maliki’s State of Law is a part.

Mohammed Al Ogeili, a politician from Mr Al Maliki’s list, rejected the nomination on the ground that it “runs against the constitution” because Mr Al Maliki’s party is the largest bloc and the National Alliance had no right to present a candidate.

“This decision would lead the country to a big problem and the president bears full responsibility for this situation,” he said.

Hakim Al Zamili, from the Shiite Sadrist movement, however, said that with 180 seats the alliance could nominate its own candidates and the institutions of the state should respect their choice.

“The security forces and government bodies belong to the Iraqi people, and they should not interfere in politics,” he said when asked whether Mr Al Maliki might use force to stay in power.

People in a Sunni neighbourhood of the city of Baquba gathered in the street and fired shots in the air to celebrate Mr Al Maliki’s defeat.

Mr Al Ibadi, 62, was somewhat of a dark horse in the months-long political wrangling over who should be nominated for prime minister after the April elections.

A Shiite politician considered close to Mr Al Maliki, he was born in Baghdad in 1952 and returned from British exile in 2003 when US-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein.

The US president Barack Obama had repeatedly stressed that any viable solution to Iraq’s woes would have to start with the formation of a new government.

It had become clear in recent weeks that Mr Al Maliki had lost support from Washington. Gradually, all his other allies followed: Iran, the Shiite clergy and even his own Dawa party.

Meanwhile 20,000 mostly Yazidi civilians who had been trapped on Mount Sinjar since extremists overran their hub of Sinjar a week ago have managed to escape.

They were escorted through Syria and back into Iraqi Kurdistan by Kurdish forces and added to the more than 200,000 displaced persons who have already entered the autonomous region since August 3.

* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse

Published: August 11, 2014 04:00 AM

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