Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with military officers today in the latest sign he won’t hand power willingly to his designated successor, as U.S. and Iraqi forces battled Islamist militants.
Maliki ordered his commanders to keep out of the political crisis that has gripped Baghdad since President Fouad Masoum asked a rival Shiite politician to form a government, according to footage of the meeting shown on television. Earlier, militiamen and soldiers had fanned out across the capital in a show of force. A car bomb killed six people in the city.
Maliki’s defiance came as a growing number of countries threw their support behind premier-designate Haidar al-Abadi amid efforts to break a three-month political stalemate that has hampered efforts to resist an offensive by the Islamic State’s Sunni insurgents.
After the U.S. and the European Union, the Arab League as well as regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt expressed support for Abadi. Shiite Iran, which has been a key backer of Maliki, said it approved of the “political process” without naming Abadi.
“There is nothing more important than the creation of a new government in Iraq so that Iraq can stabilize the security situation,” Florence Eid-Oakden, chief executive of Arabia Monitor, said in an interview on “The Pulse” on Bloomberg Television. The U.S. and its allies “will look to see this progress before further supporting the Iraqi army.”
The U.S. and some Iraqi leaders have blamed Maliki’s alienation of minority Sunnis for the success of the insurgents, an al-Qaeda offshoot. Islamic State won the backing of some Sunni tribes opposed to Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government.
President Barack Obama, who authorized air attacks against the Islamic State over the weekend, has tied expanded U.S. action to the formation of a more inclusive government capable of easing sectarian and ethnic divisions. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a radio interview today that Maliki is “largely responsible for this mess.”
The Islamic State, seizing on political drift in Baghdad following April’s inconclusive parliamentary elections, grabbed swaths of northern Iraq in a campaign from early June, including the city of Mosul, as well as key oil assets and smaller towns. They also advanced on Kurdish-held territory, and the largely autonomous territory’s rulers coupled their resistance with moves toward independence.
Obama ordered U.S. airstrikes amid the gathering threat to Kurdish regions and reports that the militants had launched a campaign to exterminate northern Iraq’s Yezidi minority and, after that, possibly Christian communities in their path.
U.S. military planes continued to attack, striking an insurgent mortar position north of Sinjar, the Pentagon said in an e-mailed statement. The militants were firing on Kurdish forces defending displaced Yezidis who were attempting to evacuate, according to the statement.
Iraqi forces retook two villages from the Islamic State in Diyala province north of Baghdad earlier today, military spokesman Qassem Ata said on Iraqiya.
Kurdish military forces, known as peshmerga, have begun receiving small-arms ammunition directly from the U.S. They’ve been outgunned because the Sunni insurgents have built up their forces with captured armored vehicles and heavy weapons the U.S. gave to the Iraqi army.
“There is an evident imbalance between this horrible terrorist group which has sophisticated weapons and the Kurdish peshmergas, who are courageous but don’t have these weapons,” Fabius said on France Info radio today. France, Britain and Italy are pushing EU foreign ministers to hold a special meeting to approve arms deliveries to the Kurds, a move which Germany has now indicated it could support.
In his meeting with senior military officials, Maliki today warned that Islamic militants might attempt to take advantage of the political chaos by infiltrating into Baghdad, and told his commanders to purge the armed forces of any suspected conspirators.
In a late-night address on state TV yesterday, the embattled Maliki had called Abadi’s appointment by President Masoum “legally worthless.”
Baghdad residents, long used to political intrigue and sectarian violence, said the capital was calm if tense.
“I’ve seen fewer checkpoints than in recent days,” Wathiq Al-Sheikhly, 38, a book store owner in central Baghdad, said by phone. “I’ve seen lots of people happy for Maliki’s departure.”