Nuri al-Maliki stuck to his guns and refused to accept his removal as Iraq’s prime minister on Wednesday, but his hold on power was tenuous as Iran’s supreme leader, a long-time Maliki ally, publicly backed his replacement.
Taking to state TV as acting premier, Maliki said the supreme court must rule on this week’s move to ask his Shia Islamist party colleague Haider al-Abadi to form a new government — a change that Iran, the US and many Iraqis see as vital to halt the advance of Sunni militants.
But while the loyalty of at least some Shia militia and government forces remains uncertain, there were further signs that Maliki, blamed for alienating the Sunni minority during his eight years in power, is isolated, even among fellow Shias.
US President Barack Obama — whose European allies followed his lead on Wednesday to arm Kurdish forces that have taken the recent brunt of fighting with the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) — has already offered Abadi its endorsement. Washington lost patience
with Maliki, who rose from obscurity during the US occupation.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, bound to Tehran’s US adversary by a common interest in curbing the rise of Sunni jihadists in Syria and Iraq, offered his personal endorsement to Abadi. He very publicly distanced himself in the process from Maliki, who has looked for support from Iran, where he spent years in exile opposing Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein. “I hope the designation of the new prime minister in Iraq will untie the knot and lead to the establishment of a new government and teach a good lesson to those who aim for sedition in Iraq,” Khamenei said in a statement on his website.