BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Thursday night that he would relinquish power, potentially ending a crisis in which his deployment of extra security forces around the capital had raised worries of a military coup.
While the country is not at peace, al-Maliki’s decision appeared to pave the way for the first nonviolent transition of power, based on democratic elections and without the guiding hand of U.S. military forces, in modern Iraq’s history.
In stepping aside, al-Maliki agreed to end his legal challenge to the nomination of his replacement, Haider al-Abadi, a member of al-Maliki’s own Shiite Islamist Dawa Party, who was chosen Monday by Iraq’s president.
Standing alongside senior members of his party, including 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 United Nations 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 swaths 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.
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, said National Security Adviser Susan Rice in a statement.
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 not only by his Shiite allies but also top ally Iran, the United States and the U.N.-backed al-Abadi, who has 30 days to put together a Cabinet for the parliament’s approval.
Iraqis of all sects welcomed Thursday’s announcement.
“Now, all we want is a government that respects the people and does not discriminate against them,” said Youssef Ibrahim, 40, a Sunni government employee in Baghdad.
Adnan Hussein, 45, a Shiite in Sadr City, said he believes al-Maliki stepped down “because he came under enormous pressure and threat from inside and outside Iraq. ... The years he ruled were the worst in Iraq’s history and he bears that responsibility.”
The U.S. and other countries have been pushing for a more representative government that will ease anger among Sunnis, who felt marginalized by al-Maliki’s administration, helping fuel the dramatic sweep by the Islamic State extremist group that has seized large swaths of territory of northern and western Iraq since June.MORE IN Wire News
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