After two days of defiant speeches and special security units deployed in the Iraqi capital, raising the spectre of a coup, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appeared to back away Tuesday from his implied threat to use force to stay in power, issuing a statement saying that the army should stay out of politics.
Mr. al-Maliki had reacted angrily Monday to the Iraqi President’s decision to nominate a different Shiite political figure to be prime minister in his place.
He had decried the step as unconstitutional, threatened court action and complained that the United States was scheming to oust him. But he appeared to soften his stance Tuesday in the face of growing opposition to his continued rule.
Iran, a long-time supporter of Mr. al-Maliki, weighed in on the side of the President’s choice for prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, adding to the pressure on Mr. al-Maliki to retreat from his threats.
The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, congratulated Mr. al-Abadi during a meeting of Iranian ambassadors, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported. And the Iranian Foreign Ministry said Iran “supports all the steps taken in line with completing the political process in Iraq,” referring to the general election in April and the subsequent choices of a new President, Parliament Speaker and now prime minister.
The Obama administration, which has sent warplanes to strike a marauding force of Sunni militants in northern and western Iraq, has also been pressuring Mr. al-Maliki to step aside. President Barack Obama and his top aide congratulated Mr. al-Abadi on Monday and exhorted him to quickly form an inclusive government that would depart from Mr. al-Maliki’s polarizing policies, which have alienated many in the Sunni Arab, Kurdish and other minorities.
Mr. al-Maliki’s office released a statement on his website that said he “urges commanders, officers and individuals to stay away from the political crisis and to commit to their military and security duties and tasks to protect the country, and not to intervene in this crisis. Leave this issue to the people, politicians and justice.”
Shortly after the statement was released, Mr. al-Maliki appeared on state television, sitting around a table with his military commanders, where he delivered the same message.
But he did not back away from the threat of a legal challenge to the nomination of Mr. al-Abadi, a lawmaker from Mr. al-Maliki’s Shiite Islamist Dawa Party.
Any legal challenge – which would be based on Mr. al-Maliki’s contention that he had a legal right to make the first attempt at forming a new government after the election, because his bloc won the most seats – is considered quixotic, because he has lost much of <QL>the support within his own <QL>party.
Reidar Visser, a historian and expert on Iraqi politics, wrote Monday on his website, “Maliki’s promise to bring the case before the Iraqi federal supreme court will be of academic interest only.”
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