Saudi Arabia, Iran back al-Abadi as new Iraq PM

Iran, a key ally of Iraq’s sidelined Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said Tuesday it backed the legal process to pick his replacement. (File photo: Reuters)

Saudi Arabia and Iran backed on Tuesday the nomination of Haidar al-Abadi to replace entrenched Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in a rare display of agreement from the rival regional heavyweights, as the United States called for the swift formation of an inclusive government in Baghdad.

Ali Shamkhani, secretary and representative of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Iran's Supreme National Security Council, voiced Iran’s backing for al-Abadi in remarks at a meeting of Iranian ambassadors in Tehran, the Fars and Mehr news agencies said.

"The framework provided by the Iraqi constitution stipulates that the prime minister has been chosen by the majority group in the parliament," Shamkhani said.

In an apparent message to Maliki, Shamkhani invited "all Iraqi factions to yield to the rule of law and unite toward their national interests ... at a sensitive time" when the country is facing foreign threats, Reuters news agency reported.

The statement was the first official signal that Maliki no longer enjoys the support of his fellow Shiite leaders and politicians in Tehran to stay on as head of government in Baghdad.

On Monday, Iraq’s President Fuad Masum tasked Abadi, who was deputy speaker in parliament, with forming a new government, in a move angrily denounced by Maliki who wanted a third term.

Maliki has been caretaker prime minister since an inconclusive parliamentary election in April. But his chances of a third term appear over, with a party colleague named as prime minister-designate and drawing endorsements from home and abroad.
The developments in the capital have threatened to further deepen political crisis in the country which is facing a growing Sunni insurgency in the north.

A statement from Maliki's office said he met senior security officials and army and police commanders to urge them "not to interfere in the political crisis” A day earlier, the U.N. had urged the Iraqi military to stay out of the political situation in the country.

Arabs welcome al-Abadi nomination

In a letter to al-Abadi on Tuesday, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz congratulated al-Abadi on the nomination as the new prime minister-designate.

“King Abdullah sent a communique to congratulate Haidar al-Abadi on being nominated the prime minister-designate of our brother country Iraq,” the Saudi Press Agency said.

“I wish to congratulate you on your nomination to the post of prime minister and I pray to God for your success and for him to help you re-establish cohesion among Iraq’s people and preserve the unity and stability of Iraq,” King Abdullah said in the message.

The Saudi leader said he wanted to see Iraq under the new prime minister "regain its rightful place in the Arab world and the Muslim world.”

Nabil al-Arabi, the head of the Arab League, also "welcomed Iraqi President Fuad Masum's tasking of Haidar al-Abadi to form a new government," a statement said.

Inclusive government

Earlier on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged al-Abadi to quickly form an inclusive government, while ruling out sending U.S. combat troops to the country.

“We are urging him to form a new cabinet as swiftly as possible and the U.S. stands ready to support a new and inclusive Iraqi government and particularly its fight against ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” he said.

“There will be no reintroduction of American combat forces into Iraq. This is a fight that Iraqis need to join on behalf of Iraq,” he added, referring to the recent U.S. military strikes on militants based in the north of Iraq.

Kerry’s comments in Sydney follow a statement from President Barack Obama that Iraq had taken “a promising step forward” in designating Abadi as its new prime minister.

EU meeting on Iraq

EU envoys meeting in Brussels meanwhile praised U.S. efforts to halt a deadly militant advance across huge parts Iraq as the European Commission boosted aid to help desperate civilians in the war-torn country.

The envoys met during an extraordinary meeting in an effort to better coordinate the response by member states to a crisis the EU's executive called the world's most pressing emergency.

"EU member states welcomed the efforts by the U.S. and partners to stop the [ISIS] advance and facilitate access for humanitarian support," a statement from the EU foreignservice said at the end of the meeting.

The talks were urgently assembled after key EU powers Italy and France earlier in the week demanded bolder EU action on Iraq.

Earlier, EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva announced the boost to the EU's aid to Iraq, though she stressed access, not funds, was the real challenge.

With the increase, aid to Iraq from Brussels now totals 17 million euros ($22.8 million) for the year, which the commissioner acknowledged was a far cry from the $500 million pledged by Saudi Arabia last month.

"This is to help hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including minority groups displaced on the mountains of Sinjar," Georgieva said in reference to the desperate civilians who had been besieged by jihadists on a mountain in northern Iraq.

The commissioner warned that "the spread of extremism around the world has meant more restriction to access" with "last resort" air drops often left as the only option.

"On this, the world is moving backward," she said.

Georgieva said the Iraq crisis was the most urgent problem facing the planet today, despite a multitude of emergencies unfurling at a "magnitude not known since the great wars in Europe.”

(With Reuters and AFP)

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