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Maliki takes aim at Iraqi rivals

August 11, 2014

Iraqi premier Nuri al-Maliki has accused new President Fuad Masum of violating the constitution. His alleged transgression: not giving Maliki a third term. This coincided with a major police deployment in Baghdad.

Irak / Nuri al-Maliki / Maliki
Image: Reuters

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki issued an unscheduled televised address on Monday, announcing that he was filing a legal complaint against the country's new president, Kurdish politician Fuad Masum. Shortly before the embattled Shiite leader spoke, special forces were deployed to strategic sites around the capital Baghdad - in scenes reminiscent of a state of emergency.

"There is a huge security presence, police and army, especially around the Green Zone," a senior police official told the AFP news agency. "There is security everywhere in Baghdad, these are very unusual measures."

"Today I will file a formal complaint to the federal court against the president," Maliki said in a short broadcast issued at midnight local time (21:00 UTC Sunday) on state TV. Maliki said Masum was guilty of two constitutional violations for missing a deadline to ask the country's largest political bloc to nominate a prime minister and form a new unity government.

"This attitude represents a coup on the constitution and the political process in a country that is governed by a democratic and federal system," 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..."

Shaky mandate

Maliki's party emerged as the largest faction in April's parliamentary elections, but won just 24 percent of the popular vote and the same proportion of seats under Iraq's proportional representation electoral system.

The Sunni and Kurdish minorities have long opposed his reappointment as prime minister, but Maliki has more recently faced resistance from former allies like Iran, Shiite clerics, the United States and even his own "State of Law" coalition.

Fuad Massum Präsident Irak 24.07.2014
Masum was appointed only last monthImage: Ali Al-Saadi/AFP/Getty Images

Washington swiftly responded to Maliki's address with two state department officials expressing their support for Masum - who was appointed president on July 24.

"The United States fully supports Fuad Masum in his role as guarantor of the Iraqi constitution," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said, echoing a response on Twitter from a leading US diplomat for the region, Brett McGurk.

Politics in Baghdad, insurgency to the north

Maliki's standing was further shaken by this summer's lightning advance of self-proclaimed "Islamic State" (IS) militants across large swathes of Iraq, including its second-most populous city, Mosul. Critics alleged that Sunni dissatisfaction with Maliki's rule helped explain the public support IS fighters received in the earlier stages of their advance, and the Iraqi military's hasty retreat.

The US has launched both airstrikes and humanitarian airdrops for fleeing refugees in response to the IS advance, announcing a fourth airdrop of food and drinking water on Mount Sinjar overnight on Monday. The US has a consulate and military training personnel stationed in the at-risk Kurdish Iraqi capital of Irbil.

Peschmerga Kämpfer im Irak
Kurdish forces have been leading the ground resistance against the IS advanceImage: Reuters

The emergency situation to the north of Baghdad appeared to have somewhat eased tensions between the Shiite-led government in Baghdad and the partially-autonomous Kurdish leadership in the north of the country. Baghdad pledged air support and humanitarian aid for Iraqi Kurdistan as the IS advance encroached on Kurdish territory. Yet longer-standing grievances over issues such as territory, oil revenues and political influence endure.

After Maliki's televised announcement, the Shiite deputy speaker of parliament, Haider al-Abadi, said on Twitter that the ruling coalition was ready to name a prime ministerial candidate, without naming anybody. Abadi himself is one of the people mooted as a potential successor to Maliki.

msh/av (AFP, AP, Reuters)