Maliki ended eight years of often divisive, sectarian rule and
endorsed fellow Shi'ite Haider al-Abadi in a televised speech during
which he stood next to his successor and spoke of the grave threat
from Sunni Islamic State militants who have taken over large areas
of northern Iraq.
"I announce before you today, to ease the movement of the political
process and the formation of the new government, the withdrawal of
my candidacy in favor of brother Dr. Haider al-Abadi," Maliki said.
Maliki's decision was likely to please Iraq's Sunni minority, which
dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein's iron rule but was sidelined by
Maliki, a relative unknown when he came to power in 2006 with U.S.
Maliki had resisted months of pressure to step down from Sunnis,
Kurds, some fellow Shi'ites, Shi'ite regional power Iran and the
United States. He had insisted on his right to form a new government
based on the results of a parliamentary election in late April.
His stubborn insistence stirred concerns of a violent power struggle
in Baghdad. But in recent days, as his support was obviously
crumbling, he told his military commanders to stay out of politics.
"From the beginning I ruled out the option of using force, because I
do not believe in this choice, which would without a doubt return
Iraq to the ages of dictatorship, oppression and tyranny, except to
confront terrorism and terrorists and those violating the will and
interests of the people," Maliki said.
On Wednesday, his own Dawa political party publicly threw its
support behind Abadi and asked lawmakers to work with him to form a
new government. And Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
offered his personal endorsement to Abadi, distancing himself from
U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice commended Maliki for his
decision to support Abadi, and she noted a wide range of leaders
from across the Iraqi political spectrum had committed to help Abadi
form a broad, inclusive government.
"These are encouraging developments that we hope can set Iraq on a
new path and unite its people against the threat presented by the
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant," Rice said in a statement.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described Maliki's decision as
"important and honorable" and said "the United States stands ready
to partner with a new and inclusive government to counter this
threat" from the Islamic State.
A U.S. official said that once administration officials concluded
Maliki had to go, Washington pushed Iraqi politicians to take steps
such as ratifying the election results and designating a prime
minister but added it had not advocated specific candidates. "It was
all teeth-grinding activity," said the official on condition of
anonymity. "While we were pushing the process, they were determining
who was going to be in the driver’s seat."
"In the end, it was the weight of the system and the weight of the
history that came down, and Maliki just lost all of his support," he
added. The official also said a clear shift last week against Maliki
by Iraq's most influential cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani,
"was a big, big part of everybody accepting that there was no way
forward with Maliki."
Abadi is seen as a moderate Shi'ite with a decent chance of
improving ties with Sunnis. But he is faced with halting the advance
of the Islamic State, which has overrun large areas of Iraq.
Before Maliki's announcement, a leading figure in the Sunni minority
told Reuters he had been promised U.S. help to fight the Islamic
Ahmed Khalaf al-Dulaimi, the governor of the Sunni heartland
province of Anbar, told Reuters his request for help, made in
meetings with U.S. diplomats and a senior military officer, included
air support against the militants who have a tight grip on large
parts of his desert province and northwestern Iraq.
[to top of second column]
Such a move could revive cooperation between Sunni tribes, the
Shi'ite-led authorities and U.S. forces that was credited with
thwarting al Qaeda in Iraq several years ago.
But the U.S. State Department played down Dulaimi’s statement.
"We’ve continued meeting with a range of officials to talk through
what the needs might be - the security needs - to fight ISIL across
the board,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters
Asked if Dulaimi was correct that the United States
had made a commitment, Harf said she had no details. "We’re having
conversations about what it (any security assistance) might look
like in the future, but nothing concrete beyond that," she said.
A U.S. defense official said: "We are not tracking any such request,
and there are no plans to support them."
Dulaimi said in a telephone interview: "Our first goal is the air
support. Their technology capability will offer a lot of
intelligence information and monitoring of the desert and many
things which we are in need of."
"No date was decided but it will be very soon and there will be a
presence for the Americans in the western area."
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday that U.S. troops
planning an evacuation of refugees further north were standing down
as U.S. air strikes and supply drops had broken the "siege of Mount
Sinjar," where thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority
had taken refuge from the militants.
Obama said some of the U.S. personnel sent to draw up plans for the
evacuation of the Yazidis would soon leave Iraq.
Disowned by al Qaeda as too radical after it took control of large
parts of Syria, Islamic State capitalized on its Syrian territorial
gains and sectarian tensions in Iraq to gain control of Falluja and
Anbar's capital Ramadi early this year.
Unlike Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda, which set its sights on
destroying the West, the Islamic State has territorial goals, aims
to set up a caliphate and rages against the Sykes-Picot agreement of
1916 between Britain and France that split the Ottoman empire and
carved borders across the Arab lands.
Seizing the capital, Baghdad, would be difficult because of the
presence of special forces and thousands of Shi'ite militias who
have slowed down the Islamic State elsewhere.
But a foothold just near the capital could make it easier for the IS
to carry out suicide bombings, deepen sectarian tensions and
On Thursday, Islamic State militants massed near the town of Qara
Tappa, 120 km (75 miles) north of Baghdad, security sources and a
local official said, in an apparent bid to broaden their front with
Kurdish peshmerga fighters.
The movement around Qara Tappa suggests they are becoming more
confident and seeking to grab more territory closer to the capital
after stalling in that region.
"The Islamic State is massing its militants near Qara Tappa," said
one of the security sources. "It seems they are going to broaden
their front with the Kurdish fighters."
(This story has been refiled Corrects to clarify reference to Iraqi
officials, not U.S. administration, in paragraph 12)
(Writing by Michael Georgy; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed
and Missy Ryan in Washington; Editing by Peter Millership, Jim
Loney, Ken Wills and Lisa Shumaker)
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