Iraqi PM Maliki: 'I will never give up my candidacy'

Maliki’s refusal to step down could complicate the struggle to form a new government

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Embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Friday refused to drop his bid for a third term in power, defying growing demands from inside and outside the country for his replacement.

“I will never give up my candidacy for the post of prime minister,” Maliki said in a statement read out on state TV by an announcer. “I will remain a soldier, defending the interests of Iraq and its people.”

Maliki has come under mounting pressure since Sunni militants took control of major areas north of Baghdad.

Iraq’s most powerful Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, earlier said the parliament’s inability to agree on a new government in its first session was a “regrettable failure.”

Sistani intervened a week ago in Iraq’s political crisis by urging lawmakers at their opening session to put aside disputes and form a new government to tackle an insurgency spearheaded by an Al-Qaeda splinter group that could fracture the country.

Sistani on Friday reiterated his call for the new government to have “broad national acceptance,” a formulation many officials have interpreted as a signal that Maliki should step aside.

His refusal to do so could complicate the struggle to form a new government to unite the ethnically and religiously divided country.
The political deadlock is all the more dangerous because of the pressing threat to Iraq’s territorial integrity.

Accused by his critics of exacerbating the country’s sectarian split, Maliki has come under immense pressure to step down from his Sunni Arab and Kurdish political foes, and even from some in his own Shi’ite camp.

The president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani, on Thursday asked the Kurdish parliament to set a date for a referendum on independence, and blamed Maliki for the crisis in Iraq.

“We warned Maliki six months ago about what’s happening, but he didn’t listen and these are the consequences,” Barzani told Kurdish MPs. “What we see today on the ground is due to the failure of Maliki’s policy in Iraq.”