Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki faces mounting pressure to form an inclusive government or step aside following the loss of large swaths of territory to Sunni militants, with both a top Shiite cleric and the White House strongly hinting he is in part to blame for the crisis.
The most respected voice for Iraq’s Shiite majority on Friday joined calls for al-Maliki to reach out to the Kurdish and Sunni minorities a day after President Barack Obama challenged him to create a leadership representative of all Iraqis.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s thinly veiled reproach was the most influential to place blame on the Shiite Prime Minister for the nation’s spiralling crisis, the most severe since US troops withdrew at the end of 2011.
Over the past two weeks, Iraq has lost a big chunk of the north to the al-Qaida-inspired Sunni militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), whose lightning offensive led to the capture of Mosul, the nation’s second-largest city.
On Thursday, Obama stopped short of calling for al-Maliki to resign, but his carefully worded comments did all but that.
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“Only leaders that can govern with an inclusive agenda are going to be able to truly bring the Iraqi people together and help them through this crisis,” Obama said.
Al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc won the most seats in the April vote, but his hopes to retain his job are in doubt with rivals challenging him from within the broader Shiite alliance. In order to govern, his bloc must first form a majority coalition in the new 328-seat legislature, which must meet by June 30.
Al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government has long been accused of discriminating against Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish populations.
But it is his perceived marginalisation of the once-dominant Sunnis that has sparked violence reminiscent of Iraq’s darkest years of sectarian fighting in 2006 and 2007.
Shiite politicians familiar with the secretive efforts to remove al-Maliki said two names mentioned as replacements are
former vice president Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite and French-educated economist, and Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who served as Iraq’s first prime minister after Saddam Hussein’s ouster. Others include Ahmad Chalabi, a onetime Washington favourite to lead Iraq, and Bayan Jabr, another Shiite who served as finance and interior minister under al-Maliki.