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Iraq's Maliki tells army to keep out of politics

Aug. 12, 2014 - 01:08PM   |  

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Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's incumbent prime minister, ordered security forces on Tuesday to not intervene in the current political crisis over who will be the next prime minister, amid fears that he might go to any lengths to stay in power. (Sabah Arar / AFP via Getty Images)

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s incumbent prime minister ordered security forces on Tuesday to not intervene in the current political crisis over who will be the next prime minister, amid fears that he might go to any lengths to stay in power.

Nouri al-Maliki urged army, police and security forces in a statement to stay out of the political crisis and focus on defending the country. On Monday, the prime minister ordered troops into the streets.

Iraqi President Fouad Massoum has named the deputy speaker of parliament, Haider al-Abadi from al-Maliki’s own Dawa Party, to form a new government — a move the incumbent has angrily rejected.

Yet al-Maliki appeared even more isolated as Iraqi politicians, the international community and even Shiite powerhouse Iran rallied behind the new premier-designate as a badly needed unifying figure in the face of a spreading Sunni insurgency.

Al-Maliki, however, raised the specter of further unrest by warning that Sunni militants or Shiite militiamen might don uniforms try to take control of the streets on the pretext of supporting him.

“This is not allowed because those people, wearing army uniforms and in military vehicles, might take advantage of the situation and move around and make things worse,” he told senior army and police commanders.

Al-Abadi’s nomination was a major breakthrough in the political deadlock that followed the April parliamentary elections. It shows that al-Maliki — who has demanded that he retain his post as prime minister for a third term since his bloc won most seats in the assembly — has lost some support with the main coalition of Shiite parties.

Top Iranian official Ali Shamkhani also offered his congratulations to al-Abadi, indicating that Iran, with its considerable influence on the Shiite parties, is shifting its backing away from al-Maliki.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday urged al-Abadi to work quickly to form an inclusive government and said the U.S. is prepared to offer it significant additional aid in the fight against Islamic State militants.

President Barack Obama called al-Abadi’s nomination a “promising step forward” and urged “all Iraqi political leaders to work peacefully through the political process.”

The U. S. has already increased its role in fighting back the Sunni extremists who have threatened the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. American airstrikes have helped the Kurds achieve one of their first victories over the weekend after weeks of retreating. And senior American officials said Monday that U.S. intelligence agencies are directly arming the Kurds who are battling the militants — a major policy shift after years of just working with the central government.

On Tuesday, a U.S. drone strike destroyed a militant mortar position threatening Kurdish forces defending refugees near the Syrian border.

The U.S. airstrikes, which began last week, have reinvigorated Iraqi Kurdish forces battling the Islamic State. On Sunday, the Kurdish fighters retook two towns from the Sunni militants in what was one of their first victories after weeks of retreat. But in the eastern Diyala province, Kurdish forces were driven out on Monday from the town of Jalula after fierce fighting with the militants.

The European Union said Tuesday it wants to “bring vital assistance to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians trapped by the fighting” and was increasing its aid by 5 million euros ($7 million) to a new total of about $23 million for this year.

EU Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said the funding will help “vulnerable Iraqis, including the minority groups besieged in the mountains of Sinjar” and the communities hosting a growing number of refugees.

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Associated Press writer Juergen Baetz in Brussels contributed to this report.

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