Iraq PM Al-Maliki steps down

    Iraq’s embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has stepped down in the face of international and domestic pressure to give up his post to a rival politician. The move defuses a political deadlock that has plunged Iraq into uncertainty and opens way for the formation of a new government that could take on a growing insurgency by Sunni militants that has engulfed much of the country.

    Al-Maliki made the announcement on national television late Thursday, August 15, standing alongside senior members of his Islamic Dawa Party, including rival Haider al- Abadi. He said he was stepping aside in favor of his “brother,” in order to “facilitate the political process and government formation.”

    The premier-designate al-Abadi, a veteran Shiite lawmaker, now faces the immense challenge of trying to unite Iraqi politicians. The country’s major political factions deeply distrust each other and the army seems unable to regain territory in the north and west taken by militants from the Islamic State group.

    Al-Maliki had been struggling for weeks to stay on for a third four-year term as prime minister amid an attempt by opponents to push him out, accusing him of monopolizing power and pursuing a fiercely pro-Shiite agenda that has alienated the Sunni minority.

    The United States, the U.N. and a broad array of political factions in Iraq had backed al-Abadi, saying only a new leader could unify a country under siege from the Islamic State extremists who have captured large swaths of Iraqi territory. Al-Maliki said his decision reflected a desire to “safeguard the high interests of the country,” adding that he would not be the cause of any bloodshed.

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