Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki rejected calls to relinquish power and allow the formation of a “national salvation” government to counter Sunni militants seeking to break up the country.
In a televised address yesterday, the Shiite premier said the demands by political opponents and even some erstwhile allies amounted to a “coup against the constitution and the political process.” He vowed to pursue the fight against militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaeda splinter group that seized Mosul, the country’s biggest northern city, and other towns this month.
The violence yesterday spread to Kirkuk, the northern region’s oil hub, where a car bomb killed at least seven people and wounded 20, according to a police statement. It was the first attack there since Kurdish forces took over control of the area two weeks ago as Iraq’s army fled in the face of the ISIL advance.
Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani is among the Iraqi politicians who have called on Maliki to stand aside, as a first step to presenting a unified front against ISIL. Opponents have accused Maliki of sidelining the country’s Sunni minority and the Kurds. The premier has denied that his policies alienated Sunnis, who had dominated Iraq’s government before the 2003 U.S. invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.
Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and factions of the premier’s own Shiite supporters have joined the calls. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who visited Iraq this week, has urged the country’s leaders to form a more inclusive government without specifying who should lead or join it.
“There is a lot of dissatisfaction within the Iraqi political system towards Maliki,” including among some Shiites, said Colin Kahl, director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for New American Security in Washington, in a phone briefing. “It is completely conceivable that the rest of the Iraqi political system could conclude that they need America’s help and that they have to dump Maliki to get it.”
Kerry expressed support for Maliki’s insistence on sticking to constitutional procedures, saying that the premier’s latest comments were “entirely in line with the conversations I had with him.”
July 1 is the deadline under the Iraqi constitution for Maliki to convene the newly elected parliament, in which his party will form the largest bloc without holding a majority. Parliament is then supposed to choose a president and prime minister within six weeks. Four years ago, the process of forming a government dragged on for eight months after voting.
The U.S. says sectarian and ethnic divisions have helped ISIL consolidate its control over areas of Iraq, OPEC’s second-biggest oil producer.
Kerry, speaking in Brussels yesterday, said Iran’s involvement in Iraq has increased in recent days, citing reports that the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guards were fighting in the neighboring country. Iran, the region’s main Shiite power, has backed Maliki and other Shiite parties in Iraq.
Kerry also referred to “some Syrian activities,” and said Iraq needs to form a government quickly “to protect Iraq without outside forces moving to fill a vacuum.” Al Arabiya and other news services reported on June 24 that Syrian planes carried out an air strike against ISIL targets on the Iraqi side of the border. Syrian state television denied the report.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alaa Shahine at email@example.com Ben Holland, Larry Liebert