BAGHDAD — Iraq’s president snubbed incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and picked another politician to form the next government Monday, setting up a fierce political power struggle even as the country battles extremists in the north and west.
The showdown came as the United States increased its role in fighting back Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group that is threatening the autonomous Kurdish region in the north. Senior American officials said U.S. intelligence agencies are directly arming the Kurds who are battling the militants in what would be a shift in Washington’s policy of only working through the central government in Baghdad.
Haider al-Ibadi, the deputy speaker of parliament from al-Maliki’s Shiite Dawa party, was selected by President Fouad Massoum to be the new prime minister and was given 30 days to present a new government to lawmakers for approval.
Al-Maliki has defiantly rejected the nomination. In a speech broadcast Monday night, al-Maliki insisted al-Ibadi’s nomination “runs against the constitutional procedures” and he accused the United States of siding with political forces “who have violated the constitution.”
“Today, we are facing a grave constitutional breach and we have appealed and we have the proof that we are the largest bloc,” al-Maliki said. “We assure all the Iraqi people and the political groups that there is no importance or value to this nomination.”
But despite angrily insisting he should be nominated for a third term, al-Maliki has lost some support with the main coalition of Shiite parties. His critics said al-Maliki contributed to Iraq’s political crisis by monopolizing power and pursuing a sectarian agenda that alienated the country’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities.
Al-Ibadi, the former minister of communications, pledged to form a government to “protect the Iraqi people.” He was nominated after receiving the majority of votes from lawmakers within the Iraqi National Alliance, a coalition of Shiite parties.
A peaceful transition is looking increasingly unlikely, given al-Maliki’s reputation for having replaced many senior Sunni officers with less-experienced, more loyal Shiite officers.
U.S. weapons to Kurds
The U.S. weapons being directly sent to Irbil are very limited in scope and number, and mostly consist of light arms like AK-47s and ammunition, a Kurdish government official and a senior Pentagon official said.
The Kurdish official said the weapons are being sent through U.S. intelligence agencies, and not the Pentagon or the State Department. Lt. Gen. William Mayville, the operations director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon was looking at other ways to help the Kurds.