|Rivals trying to oust Maliki seeking U.S., regional support||
With the country in turmoil, rivals of Iraq’s Shia prime minister are mounting a campaign to force him out of office, with some angling for support from Western backers and regional heavyweights.
On Thursday, their effort received a massive boost from U.S. President Barack Obama, AP reported.
The U.S. leader stopped short of calling for Nouri al-Maliki to resign, saying “it’s not our job to choose Iraq’s leaders.” But, his carefully worded comments did all but that.
“Only leaders that can govern with an inclusive agenda are going to be able to truly bring the Iraqi people together and help them through this crisis,” Obama declared at the White House.
“We’ve said publicly, that whether he (al-Maliki) is prime minister or any other leader aspires to lead the country, that there has to be an agenda in which Sunni, Shia and Kurd all feel that they have the opportunity to advance their interest through the political process,” the president said.
Shia politicians familiar with the secretive efforts to remove al-Maliki said two names mentioned as possible replacements are former vice-president Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a French-educated economist who is also a Shia, and Ayad Allawi, a secular Shia who served as Iraq’s first prime minister after Saddam’s ouster.
Also lobbying for the job is Ahmad Chalabi, a Shia lawmaker who recently joined the Supreme Council and was once a favorite by Washington to lead Iraq a decade ago. Another Shia from the Supreme Council who is trying to land the job is Bayan Jabr, a former finance and interior minister under al-Maliki’s tenure, according to the politicians, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
An Iraqi Shia lawmaker, Hakim al-Zamili, said he was aware of a meeting in recent days between Iraqi political leaders and U.S. officials over the issue of al-Maliki’s future, though he did not know who attended the meeting.
Al-Zamili belongs to a political bloc loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has publicly demanded that al-Maliki be replaced. But, he said, efforts to replace al-Maliki should come only after Iraqi security forces beat back the militants.
“My view is that safeguarding Iraq is now our top priority,” al-Zamili said. “We will settle the accounts later.”
Al-Maliki, who has long faced criticism for not making his government more inclusive, has been adopting conciliatory language in recent days toward Sunnis and Kurds. He said the militant threat affects all Iraqis, regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation, and called on Iraqis to drop all “Sunnis and Shias” talk. The ongoing crisis, al-Maliki said, had made Iraqis rediscover “national unity.”
The pro-al-Maliki media also made a show of a meeting Tuesday night between the Iraqi leader and Shia, Sunni and Kurdish political leaders.
A joint statement issued after the meeting said they agreed to set aside differences and focus on “national priorities” and warned against rhetoric that could potentially stoke sectarian tensions. In a reference to street parades by armed Shia militias, it also condemned any armed displays not authorized by the government.
U.S. advisors will go to Iraq
Meanwhile, Obama pledged to take "precise" military action if needed to check marauding militants in Iraq and offered up to 300 U.S. advisors to train Iraqi forces facing a crisis splintering the country.
Obama signed off on White House action after meeting his top national security advisers to discuss how to respond to swift gains by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) insurgents who have seized several key cities and threaten to advance on Baghdad.
The fighters have grabbed northern Iraq's biggest city, Mosul, displaced hundreds of thousands of people and left an unknown number dead.
Obama said he had already bolstered surveillance and intelligence capabilities in the country as he weighs possible military operations in the U.S. national interest.
Washington has already positioned an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf and is also considering using drone strikes against ISIL militants.
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