The United States and the United Nations on Thursday commended Iraq’s outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for stepping down to preserve unity of the country in a televised address.
The Obama administration called it a milestone that sets the stage for a peaceful transition of power which could unite Iraqis against the security threat from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants.
After initially struggling to stay in power, Nouri al-Maliki relinquished his post late Thursday to a fellow Dawa Party member, Haider al-Abadi, which Secretary of State John Kerry called an “important and honorable decision.”
“We urge Mr. Abadi and all Iraqi leaders to move expeditiously to complete this process, which is essential to pulling the country together and consolidating the efforts of Iraq’s many diverse communities against the common threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” Kerry said, using the former name of the militant group.
Kerry said the U.S. stands ready to partner with a new Iraqi government to counter the Islamic State threat, “and we will encourage other countries in the region and international community to do the same.”
President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, echoed Kerry’s remarks, saying the U.S. remained committed to a strong partnership with Iraq and its people.
Rice’s statement was issued while she accompanied Obama on his Martha’s Vineyard vacation.
Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday also welcomed Maliki’s decision to step aside and pledge support for al-Abadi as his successor.
“He (Ban) looks forward to the swift formation of an inclusive, broad-based government,” Ban’s press office said in a statement.
Maliki stepping aside
In his televised address, flanked by figures of his State of Law coalition including Abadi, Maliki said he would step down and endorse his successor in order to "preserve unity" in Iraq.
"I announce before you today, to ease the movement of the political process and the formation of the new government, the withdrawal of my candidacy in favour of brother Dr. Haider al-Abadi," said Maliki.
During his speech, the premier defended his time in power, saying that he had opened up Iraq to the international community, and stressed that Iraq is facing a serious terrorist threat. He also indiciated that he was not seeking any future post in government.
Maliki said his decision was based on his desire to "safeguard the high interests of the country," adding that he will not be the cause of any bloodshed.
"I will stay a combat soldier to defend Iraq and its people," he added.
End of power
President Fuad Masum on Monday tasked Abadi, a member of Maliki's Dawa party, with forming a new government, a move the two-term premier said was a violation of the constitution.
Tehran and Washington, the two main foreign power brokers in Iraq, came out in support of Abadi, and Maliki was dealt another major blow when the office of Iraq's top Shiite cleric released a letter in which he called for Maliki to go.
Maliki went from relatively unknown exile to become a powerful premier who has been widely criticised for authoritarian tendencies.
His tenure will end with Iraq facing a major crisis to which his policies have contributed.
Jihadist-led militants are in control of major areas of five Iraqi provinces, after launching an offensive in June that swept aside security forces, of which he is the commander-in-chief.