Pressure mounts on defiant Maliki to step down

The United Nations Security Council calls on Haidar al-Abadi to form a government as swiftly as possible

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Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Wednesday faced more pressure to step down as his likely successor Haidar al-Abadi won broad international support to form the next Cabinet in Baghdad.

In a televised speech, Maliki said everyone should accept a federal court ruling on an objection he filed against Abadi's recent appointment as prime minister-designate by the country’s president.

"I confirm that the government will continue and there will not be a replacement for it without a decision from the federal court," Maliki said.

Maliki has accused President Fuad Masum of violating the constitution by approving the nomination of Abadi, another Dawa member, instead of him, and vowed to take legal action.

However, hours after his speech, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for Maliki to be replaced with a more conciliatory figure, according to a letter released on Wednesday.

Sistani says new leadership needed

"I see the need to speed up the selection of a new prime minister," Sistani said in the handwritten letter addressed to leaders of Maliki's Dawa party, which was released by his office more than a month after it was written.

The new prime minister should be someone who "has broad national acceptance and is able to work together with the political leaders of the other [ethnic and religious] components to save the country from the dangers of terrorism, sectarian war and division," he said.

The call by Sistani, who is revered by millions, will carry enormous weight with the country's Shiite Arab majority.

Khamenei backs al-Abadi

Earlier in the day, the supreme leader of neighboring Iran lent its support to al-Abadi.

“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,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said during a meeting, according to a statement on his website.

Khamenei’s comments were the clearest sign yet that Tehran was no longer standing by old ally Maliki.

Al-Abadi won swift endorsements for his nomination earlier this week from the United States, the head of the Arab League as well regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia.

Security Council calls for new government

On Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council called on al-Abadi to form a government as swiftly as possible.

The Security Council said it was encouraged by the nomination of Abadi as it was an important step toward creating an inclusive government representing all parts of the country's society.

In a statement, the 15-member council urged al-Abadi “to work swiftly to form such a government as quickly as possible and within the constitutional time-frame” and called on "all political parties and their supporters to remain calm and respect the political process governed by the Constitution."

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