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Isolated Maliki refuses to step aside

Baghdad, Aug. 13 (Reuters): An ever more isolated Nuri al-Maliki again protested his removal as Iraqi Prime Minister today as his former sponsor in Iran publicly endorsed a successor who many in Baghdad hope can halt the advance of Sunni jihadists.

While Maliki, abandoned by former backers in the US and Iraq’s Shia political and religious establishment, pressed his legal claim on power, Premier-designate Haider al-Abadi held consultations on forming a coalition government that can unite warring factions after eight years that saw the Sunnis driven to revolt by what they saw as Maliki’s sectarian bias.

Shia-led government forces and their allies among the ethnic Kurdish militias of northern Iraq were in action on the frontlines against the Sunni fighters of the Islamic State as EU states began to follow the US lead and provide arms direct to the Kurds and step up efforts to help tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the advancing hardline Islamists.

Though Maliki has built up a network of commanders in the armed forces and Shia militias who owe him personal ties of loyalty, there was no sign that he was ready to resort to force against Abadi, a long-time associate in the Islamic Dawa Party.

In a speech on state television, in his continuing capacity as acting Prime Minister, Maliki said he was waiting for the supreme court to rule on his complaint that, as leader of the biggest bloc in the parliament elected in April, it was he, not Abadi, whom the President should invite to form a government. A court ruling against Maliki could be a way out of the stand-off.

“The violation that occurred has no value,” Maliki said. “This government is continuing, and will not be changed except after the Federal Court issues its decision.”

But the US, during whose occupation Maliki first rose to power, made clear again that it has had enough of him — the White House said it would be glad to see an Abadi government and urged Maliki to let the political process move forward. There was more familiar bloodshed in Baghdad, where at least 12 people were killed by bombs in two mainly Shia areas.

And there was violence too on the 1,000-km front established by the Islamic State, which exploited the political stalemate in Baghdad to burst beyond strongholds in Syria to claim a cross-border caliphate occupying up to a third of Iraq.

Kurdish peshmerga militia sources said their forces clashed with Islamic State fighters in Diyala, northeast of Baghdad. In the provincial capital, Baquba, five Sunnis were killed when Shia gunmen shot them as they prayed in a mosque.

Government forces, who collapsed in the face of the Islamic State in June, fought alongside Shia volunteers around the Sunni city of Tikrit, north of the capital.

With ethnic Kurdish Peshmerga forces pushed back on the defensive by the Islamic State this month, France announced it was joining the US in urgently supplying arms to the autonomous regional force.

 
 
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