Iraqi PM Maliki Plunges Country Into Political Crisis

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MALIKI
FILE - In this Monday, June 23, 2014 file photo, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Baghdad. Iraq's Shiite prime minister on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 rejected calls to form an interim "national salvation government" that critics say would allow the country's squabbling sects to quickly present a unified front in the face of a growing threat by Sunni militants who have seized several cities this month. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool, File) | ASSOCIATED PRESS


* Maliki's special forces deploy in Baghdad after defiant speech

* Shi'ite militias step up patrols

* France echoes U.S. call for inclusive Iraqi government

* Maliki blamed for worst crisis since Saddam's fall (Adds U.S. State Department statement in paragraphs 8-10)

By Ahmed Rasheed

BAGHDAD, Aug 10 (Reuters) - Special forces loyal to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki were deployed in strategic areas of Baghdad on Sunday night after he delivered a tough speech indicating he would not cave in to pressure to drop a bid for a third term, police sources said.

Pro-Maliki Shi'ite militias stepped up patrols in the capital, police said. An eyewitness said a tank was stationed at the entrance to Baghdad's Green Zone, which houses government buildings.

In a speech on state television, Maliki accused Iraq's Kurdish President Fouad Masoum of violating the constitution by missing a deadline for him to ask the biggest political bloc to nominate a prime minister and form a government.

"I will submit today an official complaint to the federal court against the president of the Republic for committing a clear constitutional violation for the sake of political calculations," said Maliki.

Serving in a caretaker capacity since an inconclusive election in April, Maliki has defied calls by Sunnis, Kurds, some fellow Shi'ites, regional power broker Iran and Iraq's top cleric for him to step aside for a less polarizing figure.

Critics accuse Maliki of pursuing a sectarian agenda which has sidelined Sunnis and prompted some of them to support Islamic State militants, whose latest sweep through northern Iraq has alarmed the Baghdad government and its Western allies.

Washington seems to be losing patience with Maliki, who has placed Shi'ite political loyalists in key positions in the army and military and drawn comparisons with executed former dictator Saddam Hussein, the man he plotted against from exile for years.

The United States voiced its support for Masoum after Maliki, whom Washington has blamed for stoking Iraq's security crisis, criticized him.

"We reaffirm our support for a process to select a prime minister who can represent the aspirations of the Iraqi people by building a national consensus and governing in an inclusive manner," Deputy State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement.

"We reject any effort to achieve outcomes through coercion or manipulation of the constitutional or judicial process," Harf said, adding that the United States "fully supports" Masoum in his role as the guarantor of Iraq's constitution.

U.S. President Barack Obama urged Iraqi politicians on Saturday to form a more inclusive government that can counter the growing threat from the Islamic State.

But Maliki keeps digging in.

"Now we can see unprecedented deployment of army commandos and special elite forces deployed in Baghdad, especially sensitive areas close to the green zone and the entrances of the capital," one of the police sources said.

"These forces are now taking full responsibility of securing these areas of the capital."

Iraq's Interior Ministry has told police to be on high alert in connection with Maliki's speech, a police official told Reuters.

The Islamic State has capitalized on political deadlock and sectarian tensions that have made it easier for the group to make fresh gains after arriving in the north in June from Syria.

The group, which sees Shi'ites as infidels who deserve to be killed, has ruthlessly moved through one town after another, using tanks and heavy weapons it seized from soldiers who fled in the thousands.

Islamic State militants have killed hundreds of Iraq's minority Yazidis, burying some alive and taking women as slaves, an Iraqi government minister said on Sunday, as U.S. warplanes again bombed the insurgents.

Human rights minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani accused the Sunni Muslim insurgents - who have ordered the community they regard as "devil worshippers" to convert to Islam or die - of celebrating what he called a "a vicious atrocity".

No independent confirmation was available of the killings of hundreds of Yazidis, bloodshed that could increase pressure on Western powers to do more to help tens of thousands of people, including many from religious and ethnic minorities, who have fled the Islamic State's offensive.

The U.S. Central Command said drones and jet aircraft had hit Islamic State armed trucks and mortar positions near Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region which had been relatively stable throughout the past decade of turmoil until the insurgents swept across northwestern Iraq this summer.

That marked a third successive day of U.S. air strikes, and Central Command said in its statement that they were aimed at protecting Kurdish peshmerga forces as they face off against the militants near Arbil, the site of a U.S. consulate and a U.S.-Iraqi joint military operations center.

The U.S. State Department said on Sunday it had pulled some of its staff from the Arbil consulate for their safety.

The Islamists' advance in the past week has forced tens of thousands to flee, threatened Arbil and provoked the first U.S. attacks since Washington withdrew troops from Iraq in late 2011, nearly nine years after invading to oust Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi rights minister Sudani told Reuters in a telephone interview that accounts of the killings had come from people who had escaped the town of Sinjar, an ancient home of the Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking community whose religion has set them apart from Muslims and other local faiths.

"We have striking evidence obtained from Yazidis fleeing Sinjar and some who escaped death, and also crime scene images that show indisputably that the gangs of the Islamic State have executed at least 500 Yazidis after seizing Sinjar," he said.

"Some of the victims, including women and children were buried alive in scattered mass graves in and around Sinjar."

Consolidating a territorial grip that includes tracts of Syrian desert and stretches toward Baghdad, the Islamic State's local and foreign fighters have swept into areas where non-Sunni groups live. While they persecute non-believers in their path, that does not seem to be the main motive for their latest push.

The group wants to establish religious rule in a caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq and has tapped into widespread anger among Iraq's Sunnis at a democratic system dominated by the Shi'ite Muslim majority following the U.S. invasion of 2003.

Obama warned on Saturday that there was no quick fix for the crisis that threatens to tear Iraq apart.

Kurdish regional president Masoud Barzani urged his allies to send arms to help his forces hold off the militants, who have bases across the Syrian border. During a visit by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Barzani said: "We are not fighting a terrorist organization, we are fighting a terrorist state."

Another senior Kurdish official said Kurds retook two towns southwest of Arbil, Guwair and Makhmur, with the help of U.S. strikes. But he did not expect a rapid end to the fighting.

In Jalawla, 115 km (70 miles) northeast of Baghdad, a suicide bomber killed 10 Kurdish forces and wounded 80 people on Sunday. Kurdish fighters and Islamic militants are locked in fierce clashes in the town.

Fabius, noting how Islamic State fighters had taken the upper hand after seizing heavy weaponry from Iraqi troops who fled in June, said the European Union would look into bolstering the Kurds' arsenal to help them hold out and hit back.


TAKEN AS "SLAVES"

Sudani said: "The terrorist Islamic State has also taken at least 300 Yazidi women as slaves and locked some of them inside a police station in Sinjar and transferred others to the town of Tal Afar. We are afraid they will take them outside the country.

"In some of the images we have obtained there are lines of dead Yazidis who have been shot in the head while the Islamic State fighters cheer and wave their weapons over the corpses," he added. "This is a vicious atrocity."

U.S. military aircraft have dropped relief supplies to tens of thousands of Yazidis who are trapped on the desert top of nearby Mount Sinjar, seeking shelter from the insurgents.

A spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency in Iraq said some 30,000 Iraqis had since Friday reached safety in Kurdistan after traveling on the Syrian side of the border from Sinjar.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis held a silent prayer for victims of the Iraq conflict: "Thousands of people, among them many Christians, banished brutally from their houses, children dying of hunger and thirst as they flee, women kidnapped, people massacred, violence of all kinds," he said in a Sunday address.

"All of this deeply offends God and deeply offends humanity."


MALIKI CRITICISM

France joined the calls for Iraq's feuding leaders to form an inclusive government capable of countering the militants.

"Iraq is in need of a broad unity government," Foreign Minister Fabius said in Baghdad. "All Iraqis should feel they are represented to take part in this battle against terrorism."

The pressure from France came a day after Obama described the upheaval in the north as a "wake-up call" to Iraqis who have slipped back into sectarian bloodshed not seen since 2006-2007.

Nearly every day police report kidnappings, bombings and execution-style killings in many cities, towns and villages. In Baghdad, police were on Sunday manning some squares in armored personnel carriers, an unusual sight.

The Islamic State has met little resistance. Thousands of U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers fled when its Arab and foreign fighters swept through northern Iraq from eastern Syria in June.

The collapse of the Iraqi army prompted Kurds and Shi'ite militias to step in, with limited success.

The Sunni militants routed Kurds in their latest advance with tanks, artillery, mortars and vehicles seized from fleeing Iraqi troops, calling into question the Kurds' reputation as fearsome warriors.

Iranian-trained Shi'ite militias may stand a better chance than the Kurds but they are accused of kidnapping and killing Sunnis, playing into the hands of the Islamic State, which also controls a large chunk of western Iraq.

After hammering Kurdish forces last week, the militants are just 30 minutes' drive from Arbil, the Iraqi Kurdish capital, which until now has been spared the sectarian bloodshed that has scarred other parts of Iraq for a decade.

The possibility of an attack on Arbil has prompted foreigners working for oil companies to leave the city and Kurds to stock up on AK-47 assault rifles at the arms bazaar.

In their latest sweep through the north, the Sunni insurgents seized a fifth oil field, several more villages and the biggest dam in Iraq - which could give them the ability to flood cities or cut off water and power supplies - hoisting their black flags up along the way.

After spending more than $2 trillion on its war in Iraq and losing thousands of soldiers, the United States must now find ways to tackle a group that is even more hardline than al-Qaeda and has threatened to march on Baghdad. (Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham and Missy Ryan in Washington; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Correspondent for Britain's The Sunday Times Hala Jaber reports that Kurdish and Yazidi officials say the death toll from the Islamic State's attack on the Iraq village of Kocho on Friday is higher than previously estimated. A Kurdish official initially said around 80 people lost their lives.

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New York Times correspondent Alissa J. Rubin tells her story inside the Iraqi helicopter that crashed on the Sinjar mountains on Tuesday while attempting to rescue stranded Yazidis.

Rubin was wounded in the crash and dictated the article from her hospital bed in Istanbul, the newspaper notes.

Read her moving account on The New York Times here.

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The BBC's Yalda Hakim reports from a refugee camp in Dohuk on how the Yazidi community learned of an alleged massacre by Islamic State militants in Iraq.

Watch the BBC report here.

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Kurdish forces, supported by U.S. warplanes, are battling to recaptured Iraq's largest dam from Islamic State militants, Agence France Presse reports.

More from AFP:

Kurdish forces attacked the Islamic State fighters who wrested the Mosul dam from them a week earlier, a general told AFP.

"Kurdish peshmerga, with US air support, have seized control of the eastern side of the dam" complex, Major General Abdelrahman Korini told AFP, saying several jihadists had been killed.

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The Kurdish Iraqi leader has appealed to Germany for weapons to battle the advancing Islamic State, Reuters reports.

From Reuters:

Germany has shied away from direct involvement in military conflicts for much of the post-war era and a survey conducted for Bild am Sonntag newspaper indicated that almost three quarters of Germans were against shipping weapons to the Kurds.

But Germany's defense minister has said the government was looking into the possibility of delivering military hardware.

Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, said the Kurds needed more than the humanitarian aid that Germany began sending on Friday to support people forced to flee their homes by the Sunni militant group's advance.

"We also expect Germany to deliver weapons and ammunition to our army so that we can fight back against the IS terrorists," Barzani told German magazine Focus. He said they needed German training and what they lacked most were anti-tank weapons.

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The Associated Press reports:

Airstrikes pounded the area around Iraq's largest dam on Saturday in an effort to drive out militants who captured it earlier this month, as reports emerged of the massacre of some 80 members of the Yazidi religious minority by Islamic extremists.

Residents living near the Mosul Dam told The Associated Press that the area was being targeted by airstrikes, but it was not immediately clear whether the attacks were being carried out by Iraq's air force or the U.S., which last week launched an air campaign aimed at halting the advance of the Islamic State group across the country's north.

The extremist group seized the dam on the Tigris River on Aug. 7. Residents near the dam say the airstrikes killed militants, but that could not immediately be confirmed. The residents spoke on condition of anonymity out of fears for their safety.

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The United States may accelerate economic and military aid to Iraq now Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has stood down, Reuters reports.

U.S. officials first want assurances that the Iraqi government has moved away from the sectarian policies of al-Maliki's administration, according to the news agency.

Read the full story here.

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Reuters reports:

Islamic State insurgents "massacred" some 80 members of Iraq's Yazidi minority in a village in the country's north, a Yazidi lawmaker and two Kurdish officials said on Friday.

"They arrived in vehicles and they started their killing this afternoon," senior Kurdish official Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters. "We believe it's because of their creed: convert or be killed."

A Yazidi lawmaker and another senior Kurdish official also said the killings had taken place and that the women of the village were kidnapped.

A push by Islamic State militants through northern Iraq to the border with the Kurdish region has alarmed the Baghdad government, drawn the first U.S. air strikes since the end of American occupation in 2001 and sent tens of thousands of Yazidis and Christians fleeing for their lives.

Yazidi parliamentarian Mahama Khalil said he had spoken to villagers who had survived the attack. They said the killings took place during a one-hour period.

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ABC News' Jon Williams posted a photo of the UN Security Council Resolution against Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria.

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From Reuters:

The Hezbollah leader described the radical Islamist movement that has seized large areas of Iraq and Syria as a growing "monster" that could threaten Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states, according to an interview printed on Friday.

In a separate speech, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said Islamic State also posed an existential threat to his own nation, Lebanon, the target of an incursion by Islamist insurgents from Syria this month. He said his heavily armed Shi'ite Muslim group was ready to fight the threat in Lebanon - if required.

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Reuters reports:

The United Nations Security Council took aim at Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria on Friday, blacklisting six people including the Islamic State spokesman and threatening sanctions against those who finance, recruit or supply weapons to the insurgents.

The 15-member council unanimously adopted a resolution that aims to weaken the Islamic State - an al Qaeda splinter group that has seized swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate - and al Qaeda's Syrian wing Nusra Front.

Read the full story here.

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The Associated Press reports:

Canada is committing two cargo planes to move military supplies into northern Iraq as part of the international effort to bolster Kurdish forces against Islamic militants.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday a CC-177 Globemaster and a CC-130J Hercules transport will shuttle arms provided by allies to the Iraqi city of Irbil over the next few days

The flights, crewed by some 30 Canadian Forces personnel, will continue as long as there is equipment and supplies to move.

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The New York Times reports on how the U.S. decided it was not necessary to launch a mountain rescue of Yazidis who had fled the Islamic State, after getting advisors reported back that the situation was not as dire as they thought.

From The New York Times:

The news took the far-flung advisers who were in the videoconference — including Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in Hawaii; Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, on a plane over the Rockies; and the national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, who was with the president on Martha’s Vineyard — by surprise. Just hours before, the White House had sent out a top aide with a statement saying that the United States was considering using American ground troops to rescue the Yazidis.

The article notes that Yazidi and UN officials give a different picture of Yazidis still stranded on the mountaintop.

Read the full story at The New York Times here.

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Amid the relentless advance of Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, the whole Middle East region needs to pitch in to solve the crisis, Joyce Karam, Washington Bureau Chief of Al-Hayat Newspaper told HuffPost Live.

In particular, Iran and Saudi Arabia have a shared interest in stability in Iraq and should overcome their differences to halt the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, Karam told host Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani.

"We do need a regional wake-up call to deal with the threat and a Iranian-Saudi rapprochement would do a great deal in promoting this," she said.

Read the full story on the Huffington Post here.

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From Reuters:

The European Union said on Friday that individual EU governments were free to send weapons to Iraqi Kurds battling Islamic militants provided they had the consent of Iraqi national authorities.

EU foreign ministers holding an emergency meeting in Brussels did not reach a united position to all send arms to the Iraqi Kurds but welcomed the decision by some EU governments, such as France, to do so.

The EU said it would also look at how to prevent Islamic State militants, who have overrun some oilfields in Syria and Iraq, benefiting from oil sales. The bloc also called for a swift investigation of human rights abuses in Syria and Iraq, saying some may be crimes against humanity.

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An Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter plays a musical instrument on the front line in Khazer, near the Kurdish checkpoint of Aski kalak, northern Iraq, on August 14, 2014. (SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

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Reuters reports:

Tribal leaders and clerics from Iraq's Sunni heartland who staged a revolt against outgoing prime minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government would be willing to join the new administration if certain conditions are met, a spokesman for the group told Reuters on Friday.

The spokesman, Taha Mohammed Al-Hamdoon, said Sunni representatives in Anbar and other provinces had drawn up a list of demands to be delivered to the moderate Shi'ite Abadi through Sunni politicians.

He called for government and Shi'ite militia forces to suspend hostilities to allow space for talks.

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The United Nations agency for refugees interviews Yazidi refugees who escaped from the Sinjar mountains:

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Reuters reports:

Iraq's most influential cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, threw his weight on Friday behind the new prime minister, calling for national unity to contain sectarian bloodshed and an offensive by Islamic State militants that threatens Baghdad.

Speaking after Nuri al-Maliki finally stepped down as prime minister under heavy pressure from allies at home and abroad, the spiritual leader of Iraq's Shi'ite majority said the handover to Maliki's party colleague Haider al-Abadi offered a rare opportunity to resolve political and security crises.

Iraq has been plunged into its worst violence since the peak of a sectarian civil war in 2006-2007, with Sunni fighters led by the Islamic State overrunning large parts of the west and north, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee for their lives and threatening the ethnic Kurds in their autonomous province.

Sistani told the country's feuding politicians to live up to their "historic responsibility" by cooperating with Abadi as he tries to form a new government and overcome divisions among the Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish communities that deepened as Maliki pursued what critics saw as a sectarian Shi'ite agenda.

Abadi himself, in comments online, urged his countrymen to unite and cautioned that the road ahead would be tough.

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The U.S. government's development agency posted a photo on Twitter of American officials meeting with displaced Yazidis on the Sinjar mountains on Wednesday. USAID said the assessment team consisted of military and humanitarian officials.

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More from the Associated Press on Maliki's announcement he is standing down:

Al-Maliki says his decision is 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 in the televised address late Thursday, with al-Abadi standing by his side.

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08/14/2014 4:12 PM EDT
Maliki Due To Address The Nation

The Associated Press reports:

Iraqi state television says Iraq's Nouri al-Maliki has given up his post as prime minister to Haider al-Abadi.

The Iraqiya television network said al-Maliki has "relinquished the post of prime minister." It did not elaborate.

The announcement comes ahead of an address al-Maliki is due to make later Thursday evening, according to the government.

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The Associated Press reports:

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iraqi government says embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is to address the nation, as Shiite lawmakers say he has agreed to step aside and support his nominated replacement in the post.

Four senior Shiite lawmakers tell The Associated Press that al-Maliki has agreed to endorse Haider al-Abadi as the next prime minister following a meeting of Dawa party members in Baghdad late Thursday, ending the deadlock that has plunged Baghdad into a political uncertainty.

Hussein al-Maliki and Khalaf Abdul-Samad, lawmakers with al-Maliki and al-Abadi's State of Law parliamentary bloc, say al-Maliki will support al-Abadi's nomination in his speech Thursday night. Two other lawmakers, speaking to AP on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door meeting, also say al-Maliki will do so.

The government announced al-Maliki will speak Thursday evening.

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The United Nations Security Council will vote on Friday on a draft resolution aimed to stop the flow of fighters and money to the Islamic State militant group, according to Agence France Presse.

Diplomats told the news agency that all 15 Council members have agreed the draft, proposed by Britain, and it will go to a vote at 1900 GMT on Friday.

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