BAGHDAD — Iraq’s embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in a surprise speech late Sunday, resisted calls for his resignation and accused the country’s new president of violating the constitution, plunging the government into a political crisis at a time it is battling advances by Islamic State militants.
Al-Maliki is seeking a third-term as prime minister, but the latest crisis prompted even his closest allies to call for his resignation. A parliament session scheduled for today to discuss the election and who might lead the next Iraqi government was postponed until Aug. 19.
On Sunday night, in a nationally televised speech, al-Maliki declared he will file a legal complaint against the new president, Fouad Massoum, for committing “a clear constitutional violation.”
Al-Maliki, whose Shiite-dominated bloc won the most seats in April elections, accused Massoum of neglecting to name a prime minister from the country’s largest parliamentary faction by Sunday’s deadline. He said the president violated the constitution “for the sake of political goals.”
Al-Maliki, speaking on Iraqi TV for the first time since U.S. forces launched airstrikes and humanitarian airdrops in Iraq last week, said the security situation will only worsen as a result of Massoum’s actions.
“This attitude represents a coup on the constitution and the political process in a country that is governed by a democratic and federal system,” al-Maliki said. “The deliberate violation of the constitution by the president will have grave consequences on the unity, the sovereignty, and the independence of Iraq and the entry of the political process into a dark tunnel.
The political infighting could hamper efforts to stem advances by Sunni militants who seized a large swath of northern and western Iraq in recent weeks.
Critics said the Shiite leader contributed to the crisis by monopolizing power and pursuing a sectarian agenda that alienated the country’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities.
After al-Maliki’s speech, Brett McGurk, a deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran, expressed support for Massoum.
“Fully support President of Iraq Fuad Masum as guarantor of the Constitution and a PM nominee who can build a national consensus,” McGurk tweeted.
The U.S. airstrikes have reinvigorated Kurdish forces battling the Islamic State militants in northern and western Iraq. Kurdish forces retook two towns from the Sunni militants on Sunday, achieving one of their first victories after weeks of retreating, a senior Kurdish military official said.
Kurdish peshmerga fighters were able to push the militants of the Islamic State group out of the villages of Makhmour and al-Gweir, some 28 miles from the Kurdish capital of Irbil, Brig. Gen. Shirko Fatih said.
The United States launched a fourth round of airstrikes Sunday against militant vehicles and mortars firing on Irbil as part of efforts to blunt the militants’ advance and protect American personnel in and around the Kurdish capital.