Salam FARAJ, AFP
The much-awaited breakthrough in Baghdad came as Kurdish troops backed by US warplanes battled to turn the tide on two months of jihadist expansion in the north. “The country is in your hands,” President Fuad Masum told Haidar al-Abadi on Monday after accepting his nomination by parliament’s Shiite bloc, in a move immediately welcomed by the United States.
Abadi, long considered a close Maliki ally, has 30 days to form a government, amid hopes that a broad-based cabinet could serve as a foundation for healing Iraq’s deep sectarian divides. US President Barack Obama welcomed Abadi’s nomination, and Washington as a whole made no secret of its desire to see Maliki step aside and usher in a new era.
Maliki, however, appeared determined to resist replacement. Surrounded by 30-odd loyalists from his Shiite bloc, he gave a speech denouncing Abadi’s nomination as a violation of the constitution. Maliki, who worked hand in glove with the US when it occupied Iraq, accused Washington of now working to undermine him. But, even if he could still complicate the handover of power, he looked more isolated than ever, despite deploying special forces and armoured vehicles across strategic locations in Baghdad.
Quiet exit The UN’s top envoy in Iraq called on the security forces to “refrain from actions that may be seen as interference in matters related to the democratic transfer of political authority”. Washington warned its erstwhile ally “not to stir those waters” and promptly welcomed Abadi’s nomination as a “key milestone”. “The only lasting solution is for Iraqis to come together and form an inclusive government,” Obama told the press during his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. “This new leadership has a difficult task to regain the confidence of its citizens by governing inclusively and taking steps to demonstrate its resolve.”