Iraq President Calls For New PM

shiaIraq’s president has asked the deputy speaker of parliament, Haider al-Abadi, to form a new government. Mr Abadi has been nominated prime minister by Shia parties, instead of the incumbent Nouri Maliki.

But Mr Maliki has made it clear he wants to stand for a third term, and pro-Maliki security forces took key sites in Baghdad overnight.

Meanwhile the jihadist insurgency in the north of Iraq continues to cause international concern.

Fighters from the Islamic State (IS) group have made substantial gains in northern Iraq in recent months, forcing tens of thousands of people from religious minorities to flee their homes. The US has begun supplying weapons to the Kurdish Peshmergas who are fighting the militants, senior US officials have told the Associated Press.

In Baghdad, Iraqi President Fuad Masum said in a TV address that he hoped Mr Abadi would succeed in forming a government that would “protect the Iraqi people”.

Analysts say the announcement is a public snub for Mr Maliki, whose State of Law coalition won the most seats in April’s elections.

He has been in power as prime minister since 2006, but parliament has never agreed to give him a third term. He has also lost the backing of the US.

Mr Maliki’s popularity has suffered from the growing Islamist insurgency in the north – and even before that his support from Sunnis and Kurds was dwindling.

Now he has lost support from his own Shias – with the Shia National Alliance reported to have supported Mr Abadi with 130 votes, compared to just 40 votes for Mr Maliki. — BBC

Earlier on Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry called on Mr Maliki not to increase tensions, and warned against the use of force by political factions.

The BBC’s defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus says the arming of the Kurdish Peshmerga is a significant shift in US policy.

Until now, Washington has been reluctant to arm the Peshmerga for fear of accelerating a Kurdish break-away from Iraq, our correspondent says.

Washington has made clear that full-scale US support is contingent on new more inclusive governing arrangements in Baghdad.

Reports are emerging in northern Iraq that Islamic State (IS) militants have captured the town of Jalawla, north-east of Baghdad, after weeks of clashes with Kurdish fighters.

On Sunday, Kurdish forces said they had regained the towns of Gwer and Makhmur from the militants, helped by recent US air strikes in Nineveh province.

The US has already launched four rounds of air strikes targeting the militants near Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

In western Iraq, minority religious groups, such as the Yazidis, have been forced from their homes, prompting international aid drops.

Witnesses told the BBC that thousands of refugees near Sinjar had escaped to safer areas.

The US air strikes have been the first direct American involvement in a military operation in Iraq since the US withdrawal from the country in late 2011.

US President Barack Obama authorised the strikes last week after members of the Yazidi sect were forced to flee Sinjar into the surrounding mountains.

BBC

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