By: TIM ARANGO
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Thursday night said he had agreed to relinquish power, a move that came after days of crisis in which his deployment of extra security forces around the capital had raised worries of a military coup.
Maliki’s decision held out the prospect of a peaceful transition of power, based on democratic elections and without the guiding hand of American military forces, which would be a first in modern Iraq’s troubled history of kings and coups.
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His decision to step aside came after heavy pressure from the United States, which has deployed warplanes in Iraq to target Sunni Islamist militants and suggested that more military support would be forthcoming if Maliki was removed from power. Iran also played a decisive role in convincing Maliki that he could not stay in power.
Maliki, 64, agreed to end his legal challenge to the nomination of his replacement, Haider al-Abadi, 62, a member of Maliki’s own Dawa Party, who was chosen Monday by Iraq’s president
On state television, standing next to Abadi and other party leaders, Maliki said, “I announce before you today, to facilitate the political process and to form a new government, that I withdraw my candidacy in favour of the brother Dr Haider al-Abadi, and all that goes with that in order to preserve the high interests of the country.”
During the 12-minute speech, Maliki portrayed himself as a loyal leader who had used all the means at his disposal to defend Iraq from terrorism and what he characterized as internationally backed plots to weaken and divide his government.
In his speech, Maliki said he sought no particular position, but that he would remain “a fighting soldier defending Iraq and its people.”
The unexpected timing of the announcement — late Thursday night — was partly aimed at avoiding another Friday of calls from the mosques for his departure, said one Shia official from State of Law. “He lost everyone, even his closest aides,” the official said. “He wanted to save face.”
Abadi has 30 days from the time of his appointment on Monday to form a new government. Maliki will remain as a caretaker prime minister until then.
In acknowledging his defeat at the hands of his opponents, Maliki said, “O people of Iraq, understand well that this is not just Maliki who is a target, but all of Iraq.”