Nouri al-Maliki

UPDATE: Maliki steps down.

Nouri al-Maliki has in a television address announced his decision to step down as Iraq’s prime minister and endorsed Haider al-Abadi as his successor.

He said his decision was aimed at preserving the country’s “unity”.

“I announce before you today, to ease the movement of the political process and the formation of the new government, the withdrawal of my candidacy in favour of brother Dr Haider al-Abadi,” Maliki said in his Thursday address.

Maliki Refusing To Step Down, Predicts Trouble For Iraq If Forced Out

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is not going quietly. Despite the US calling for regime change and Iraqi President Fuad Masum appointing Haidar al-Abadi as the new prime minister, Maliki is refusing to leave power calling President Masum’s move a “coup.”

Maliki has been blamed by the White House for the current deteriorated state of Sunni-Shiite relations in Iraq which have boiled over and led to Sunni tribes supporting the ISIS forces that have taken significant amounts of territory from the government in Baghdad.

Maliki is accused of purging Iraq’s central government and agencies – such as military – of Sunnis to consolidate power among his sect and cronies.

The current plan, according to Maliki, is to challenge President Masum’s appointment of Abadi in court. Maliki also warned that if he is removed from power the situation in Iraq will, somehow, get even worse.

Maliki, whose bloc won the most votes in April elections, has refused to step down and seeks a third term in office. Al-Abadi was selected by the main Shiite alliance which includes al-Maliki’s bloc, the Islamic Dawa party, which says al-Abadi “only represents himself.”

At a meeting between al-Maliki and senior military commanders broadcast on state television Tuesday, the incumbent premier warned that security forces should not get involved in politics. He also raised the specter of further unrest by saying Sunni militants or Shiite militiamen might don military uniforms and try to take control of the streets and “make things worse.”

If Maliki is ultimately forced out it may further fracture the ruling Shitte coalition, though it remains to be seen how far Mailiki will take his angst at being ousted. Will be help “make things worse” directly or indirectly?

Now that there is about 1,000 US troops on the ground in Iraq and daily airstrikes on ISIS, it will be hard to for the Obama Administration to pull out should the government in Baghdad collapse due to infighting between Maliki and other members of the Shiite political class.

The goal for the US government is still to promote a unity government that will include all groups and make the Sunnis withdraw support from ISIS. But hoping for change by making Maliki the scapegoat for all sectarian conflict and thus removing him to bring about reconciliation is a poor strategy and ensures a longer US military commitment to Iraq with no end in sight.

Photo by US Air Force under public domain.