Forces loyal to Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki took to Baghdad’s streets on Monday after the prime minister refused to make way for his designated successor.
Earlier in the day, President Fuad Masum — a veteran Kurdish politician who was appointed by parliament late last month — had named Haider al-Abadi the country’s next premier. Abadi was immediately congratulated by America’s vice president, Joe Biden, while the former occupier warned Maliki not to “stir the waters” and use force to cling to power.
Maliki himself appeared on television but stood silent while a member of his Shia party read out a statement declaring Abadi’s nomination illegal.
In a statement put out by his office last month, Maliki had insisted, “I will never give up the nomination for the post of prime minister.”
Maliki won April’s parliamentary election but an Islamist offensive in the north of the country has raised pressure on him to stand down in favor of a less polarizing figure.
America, which launched airstrikes against militants from the self-declared Islamic State before the weekend — almost three years after withdrawing its troops from Iraq — blames Maliki for driving his country’s alienated Sunni minority into revolt.
Leaders of Iraq’s Kurdish and Sunni communities have demanded Maliki’s resignation. Some Sunni Arab militias and tribes have even joined the insurgency, or at least refused to stand in its way, seeing it as an opportunity to unseat him.
Yet the veteran ruler, who first came to power in 2006, would not yield. Rather, he led a crackdown of police officers and politicians he considered “traitors” while his party declared a boycott of the country’s biggest Sunni political bloc.
After earlier accusing the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in the north of Iraq of harboring terrorists, Maliki promised to support it in its fight against the Islamic State last week. But the Kurds still struggle to defend their territory with militants closing in on their capital, Irbil, and taking control of the Mosul Dam, the country’s largest single source of electricity.
The Islamic State, which advocates a puritanical interpretation of its faith and has massacred hundreds, if not thousands, of nonbelievers, now rules swathes of territory in an arc from Aleppo in Syria to near the western edge of Baghdad. Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has proclaimed himself to be the “caliph” — the historic title of the successors of the Prophet Muhammad who ruled the entire Muslim world.
Abadi on Monday urged national unity against the “barbaric” organization. “We all have to cooperate to stand against this terrorist campaign launched on Iraq and to stop all terrorist groups,” he said after meeting Masum.