Embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced late Thursday that he was relinquishing his post to his nominated replacement, ending a political deadlock that has plunged the country into uncertainty as it fights a Sunni militant insurgency.
Standing alongside senior members of his party, including rival Haider al-Abadi, al-Maliki said he was stepping aside in favor of his “brother,” in order to “facilitate the political process and government formation.”
Al-Maliki had been struggling for weeks to stay on for a third four-year term as prime minister amid an attempt by opponents to push him out, accusing him of monopolizing power and pursuing a fiercely pro-Shiite agenda that has alienated the Sunni minority. The United States, the U.N. and a broad array of political factions in Iraq had backed al-Abadi, saying only a new leader could unify a country under siege from Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group that have captured large swathes of Iraqi territory.
Al-Maliki said his decision to throw his support behind al-Abadi reflected a desire to “safeguard the high interests of the country,” adding that he would not be the cause of any bloodshed. “My position is your trust in me, and no position is higher than your trust,” he declared in a televised address.
Al-Maliki’s refusal to give up his position after eight years in power had provoked a political crisis that escalated this week in Baghdad, where armed guards patrolled most major bridges, intersections and roadways.
The pressure intensified when his Shiite political alliance backed al-Abadi to replace him, and President Fouad Massoum nominated al-Abadi on Monday to form the next government. Al-Maliki refused to step aside, threatening legal action against the president for what he said was a violation of the constitution.
But in a meeting of his party earlier Thursday, al-Maliki agreed to endorse al-Abadi as the next prime minister, two senior lawmakers from his State of Law parliamentary bloc _ Hussein al-Maliki and Khalaf Abdul-Samad _ told the Associated Press.
The lawmakers said al-Maliki also agreed to drop a suit before the constitutional court challenging al-Abadi’s nomination.
The White House commended al-Maliki for backing al-Abadi and expressed hope that the power shift “can set Iraq on a new path and unite its people” against the threat from Islamic militants, national security adviser Susan Rice said in a statement.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the move “sets the stage for a historic and peaceful transition of power in Iraq. We urge Mr. Abadi and all Iraqi leaders to move expeditiously to complete this process, which is essential to pulling the country together and consolidating the efforts of Iraq’s many diverse communities against the common threat posed by the Islamic State …”
The United Nations special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, also welcomed the move, saying it “demonstrates statesmanship and a commitment to the democratic process and the constitution.”
Al-Maliki had grown increasingly isolated as he was deserted continued…