Maliki sidelined as Iraq’s new PM gets US and Iranian backing

Shia militia and army commanders long loyal to Maliki also back change in leadership

Iran turned its back on Nouri al-Maliki yesterday, and congratulated his designated successor as prime minister of Iraq, paving the way for Mr Maliki's removal.

The move by Mr Maliki's main sponsor, which was signalled by a senior official close to Iran's supreme leader, aligned Tehran with the US, Saudi Arabia and Nato in formally backing Haider al-Abadi as the new premier – apparently making Mr Maliki's position untenable.

There were unconfirmed reports yesterday that Iran had offered the ousted prime minister asylum, while Mr Maliki urged Iraq’s security forces not to get involved in Baghdad politics.

The widespread international support for Mr Abadi from across usual regional faultlines was expected to help him to form a broad-based government, which Mr Maliki had persistently failed to do. It was unclear, however, what a show of political unity in Baghdad could do in the immediate future to contain the threat of the Islamic State (formerly known as Isis) group in the north.


Still trapped

Thousands of Yazidis remain trapped on Mount Sinjar, “without food, water or shelter”, the UN said yesterday, as the west stepped up humanitarian support.

US defence officials said that American planes were flying about 100 sorties a day over Iraq. The US strikes targeted Isis artillery and mobile columns, providing a boost to Kurdish peshmerga forces, which recaptured two towns from Isis but lost a third.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), tens of thousands of Yazidis, a religious minority concentrated in northeastern Iraq, have escaped Sinjar and crossed into Syria and then back into the autonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan, to the Dohuk governorate close to the Syrian border.

Adrian Edwards, a UNHCR spokesman, said that after a mass influx in the past 72 hours, there are now 35,000 Yazidis and other minorities who escaped Sinjar taking refuge in Dohuk, where they were in dire need of food, water and shelter.

“As of now, an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people remain trapped on Sinjar Mountain without food, water or shelter,” Mr Edwards added.

Europe stepped up support for those fleeing, pledging more air drops, money and equipment and the European Commission pledged €5 million to help aid organisations across northern Iraq.

The Iranian announcement in support of Mr Abadi was made by Ali Shamkani, the secretary of the National Security Council, who congratulated the Iraqi leadership and people on the appointment of the new prime minister.

In what appeared a co-ordinated move the Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia militia, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), swung its support behind Mr Abadi, in a further sign that Mr Maliki was running out of options.

The Iranian declaration of support overtly aligned Tehran with the US and Nato. Speaking in Australia, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, promised "additional political, economic and security options" once the new prime minister assembled a functioning government.

No combat troops

Mr Kerry made clear there were no plans for a return of US combat troops. “Nobody, I think, is looking forward to a return to the road that we’ve travelled,“ he said.

Meanwhile the Vatican called on Muslim leaders to denounce unambiguously the persecution of Christians and Yazidis in Iraq – and hinted that it is considering breaking off dialogue with Islamic representatives if they fail to do so.

“All must be unanimous in their unambiguous condemnation of these crimes and denounce the invoking of religion to justify them,” it said in a statement.

An Iraqi military helicopter taking aid crashed on Mount Sinjar yesterday afternoon, killing the pilot and wounding 20 others, including Iraq's only Yazidi MP, Viyan Dakhil, who was on board for a rescue mission. – (Guardian service)