Maliki denounces Iraqi president, deploys troops around Baghdad (+video)

The embattled Iraqi prime minister shows no willingness to step aside for a new unity government, which the US insists is crucial to reduce tensions and resist Islamic State militants.

By , Staff writer

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    Iraqi security forces stand guard amid tight security around a pro-government demonstration supporting embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in Baghdad, Monday. Mr. Maliki is taking his struggle to keep his job to the courts after announcing he will file a legal complaint on Monday against the country's newly elected president.
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Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is clinging to power Monday, after lashing out at critics and deploying security forces loyal to him around Baghdad Sunday night. 

The embattled prime minister denounced Iraq’s ethnic Kurdish president on state television late Sunday, accusing him of violating the constitution by not naming a prime minister. Mr. Maliki’s party narrowly won parliamentary elections in April, but the formation of a new government has stalled. 

Recommended: How much do you know about US-Iraq relations? Take our quiz.

Shiite militias and security forces personally loyal to Maliki were positioned around the capital Sunday night, according to multiple press reports.

The actions are the clearest signals yet that Maliki has no intention of bending to domestic or international pressure to step down. The US and other foreign powers say a new unity government is crucial for stemming sectarian resentment and combatting the self-declared Islamic State and its allies. 

"The government formation process is critical in terms of sustaining stability and claim in Iraq," US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters on Monday, Reuters reports. "Our hope is that Mr. Maliki will not stir those waters."

Maliki’s speech Sunday came after President Fouad Masoum missed a deadline to appoint a new prime minister, prompting angry accusations from Maliki and concern from US officials. The Wall Street Journal reports:

U.S. officials said they were alarmed by Mr. Maliki's fiery speech Sunday and, in particular, his call for the Iraqi army to protect the country's constitution. Obama administration officials even made calls to Iraqi politicians because of concerns Mr. Maliki was moving against his political opponents, but found none of them had been detained or placed under house arrest.

A senior Iraqi official told The New York Times that Maliki had placed tanks and loyal special forces units in the Green Zone of government buildings:

The official said Mr. Maliki had “gone out of his mind, and lives on a different planet — he doesn’t appreciate the mess he has created.” A Kurdish news agency reported that presidential guards were “on high alert to protect the presidential palace,” and the capital swirled with rumors about what might happen next.

In Washington late Sunday, a senior administration official said that the United States had not confirmed reports of abrupt military movements in Baghdad, including rumors that tanks had surrounded the presidential palace, but that it would monitor the situation closely.

An official at Iraq’s Ministry of the Interior told the Wall Street Journal that the extra security was in anticipation of a terrorist attack and was not related to politics.

Finding a replacement candidate for Maliki ­– a Shiite who promoted his ethnicity above the country’s Sunnis and Kurds ­­– has proved difficult, Reuters notes:

Complicating efforts to propose a replacement from among fellow Shi'ites, who appear to have some support from both the country's leading cleric and from the Shi'ite establishment of neighbouring Iran, the country's highest court ruled that Maliki's State of Law bloc is the biggest in the new parliament.

That, a senior Iraqi official said, was "very problematic" for attempts to have President Masoud offer the premiership to an alternative candidate to Maliki - an alternative that one senior member of his party said had been close to being chosen.

On Sunday, the deputy speaker of Iraq's parliament Haider al-Abadi, a member of Maliki’s party, said in a tweet that a bloc of Shiite parties was close to choosing a new prime minister. Mr. Abadi’s name has been floated as a possible candidate, but critics accuse him, too, of sectarianism. 

Maliki and his advisers fear they could be arrested or assassinated if they lose their grip on power, The Christian Science Monitor’s Baghdad correspondent reported Friday:

Although he has lost the backing of many of his former allies and is believed to be under pressure to step down by both the US and Iran, a former supporter, Maliki has refused to consider stepping aside or endorsing another candidate. 

“Anyone who tells you there is another name besides al-Maliki is wrong,” says Hisham al-Suhail, a member of parliament from Maliki’s State of Law coalition.

According to a wide range of politicians, Maliki and his closest advisers believe they could be arrested or assassinated if he loses his position.

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