BAGHDAD: A political showdown loomed in Baghdad as Nuri al-Maliki appeared determined on Tuesday not to go down without a fight after his replacement as prime minister was internationally acclaimed.
Washington urged his successor, Haidar al-Abadi, to rapidly form a broad-based government able to unite Iraqis in the fight against rampant jihadist militants who have overrun large swathes of the country.
The United States, and other countries, said they were working to deliver much-needed arms to the Kurds, who are fighting the Islamic State (IS) on several fronts.
Abadi came from behind in a protracted and acrimonious race to become Iraq’s new premier when President Fuad Masum on Monday accepted his nomination and tasked him with forming a government.
He has 30 days to build a team, which will face the daunting task of defusing sectarian tensions and, in the words of US President Barack Obama, convincing the Sunni Arab minority that IS “is not the only game in town.”
“We are urging him to form a new cabinet as swiftly as possible and the US stands ready to support a new and inclusive Iraqi government and particularly its fight against ISIL [IS],” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Sydney on Tuesday.
He reiterated Washington’s stance that US air strikes launched last week were not a prelude to the reintroduction of American combat forces.
After seizing the main northern city of Mosul in early June and sweeping through much of the Sunni heartland, jihadist militants bristling with US-made military equipment they seized from retreating Iraqi troops launched another onslaught this month.
They attacked Christian, Yazidi, Turkmen and Shabak minorities west, north and east of Mosul, sparking a mass exodus that took the number of people displaced in Iraq this year soaring past the million mark.
A week of devastating gains saw the jihadists take the country’s largest dam and advance to within striking distance of the autonomous Kurdish region.
They also attacked the large town of Sinjar, forcing thousands of mainly Yazidi civilians to run up a mountain and hide there with little food and water.
US strikes and cross-border Kurdish cooperation appeared to stop the rot and yielded early results on several fronts, with thousands of Yazidis managing to escape their mountain death trap and Kurdish troops beginning to claw back lost ground.
The United States has been leading an increasingly international effort to deliver humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands who have poured into Kurdistan over the past week alone.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said it was the Iraqi government that had requested US assistance in providing the peshmerga with more arms.
“We are—American forces, through Centcom—are helping get that equipment to Arbil,” he said.