Iraq's new prime minister-designate won swift
endorsements from uneasy mutual allies the United States and
Iran as he called on political leaders to end crippling feuds
that have let jihadists seize a third of the country.
Haider al-Abadi still faces opposition closer to home, where
his Shi'ite party colleague Nuri al-Maliki has refused to
step aside after eight years as premier that have alienated
Iraq's once dominant Sunni minority and irked Washington and
However, Shi'ite militia and army commanders long loyal to
Maliki signalled their backing for the change, as did many
people on the streets of Baghdad, eager for an end to fears
of a further descent into sectarian and ethnic bloodletting.
Sunni neighbours Turkey and Saudi Arabia also welcomed
A statement from Maliki's office said he met senior security
officials and army and police commanders to urge them "not to
interfere in the political crisis". At least 17 people were
killed in two car bombings in Shi'ite areas of Baghdad - a
kind of attack that has become increasingly routine in recent
As Western powers and international aid agencies considered
further help for tens of thousands of people driven from
their homes and under threat from the Sunni militants of the
Islamic State near the Syrian border, Secretary of State John
Kerry said the United States would consider requests for
military and other assistance once Abadi forms a government
to unite the country.
Underscoring the convergence of interest in Iraq that marks
the normally hostile relationship between Washington and
Iran, senior Iranian officials congratulated Abadi on his
nomination, three months after a parliamentary election left
Maliki's bloc as the biggest in the legislature. Like Western
powers, Shi'ite Iran is alarmed by Sunni militants' hold in
Syria and Iraq.
"Iran supports the legal process that has taken its course
with respect to choosing Iraq's new prime minister," the
representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on
the Supreme National Security Council was quoted as saying.
"Iran favours a cohesive, integrated and secure Iraq," he
said, adding an apparent appeal to Maliki to concede.
Abadi himself, long exiled in Britain, is seen as a far less
polarising, sectarian figure than Maliki, who is also from
the Shi'ite Islamic Dawa party. Abadi appears to have the
blessing of Iraq's powerful Shi'ite clergy, a major force
since U.S. troops toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in
Iraqi state television said Abadi "called on all political
powers who believe in the constitution and democracy to unite
efforts and close ranks to respond to Iraq's great
One politician close to Abadi told Reuters that the prime
minister-designate had begun contacting leaders of major
groups to sound them out on forming a new cabinet. The
president said on Monday he hoped he would succeed within the
A statement from a major Shi'ite militia group, Asaib Ahl
Haq, which has backed Maliki and reinforced the Iraqi army as
it fell back from the north in June, called for an end to the
legalistic arguments of the kind used by Maliki to justify
his retaining power and urged "self-restraint by all sides".
It said leaders should "give priority to the public interest
over the private" and respect clerical guidance - a clear
reference to indications that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani
favours the removal of Maliki to address the national crisis.
While U.S. officials have been at pains not to appear to be
imposing a new leadership on Iraq, three years after U.S.
troops left the country, President Barack Obama was quick to
welcome the appointment. Wrangling over a new government
since Iraqis elected the new parliament in April has been
exploited by the Islamic State to seize much of the north and
Obama has sent hundreds of U.S. military advisers and last
week launched air strikes on the militants after they made
dramatic gains against the Peshmerga forces of Iraq's
autonomous ethnic Kurdish region, an ally of the Baghdad
Kurdish president Masoud Barzani told U.S. Vice President Joe
Biden that he would work with Abadi, the White House said.
U.S. officials have said the Kurds are also receiving direct
military aid, and U.S. and British aircraft have dropped food
and other supplies to terrified civilians, including from the
Yazidi religious minority, who have taken refuge in remote
mountains. The United Nations said on Tuesday that 20,000 to
30,000 Yazidis may still be sheltering on the arid Mount
Kerry, who on Monday had warned Maliki not to resort to force
to hold on to power, said on Tuesday that Abadi could win
more U.S. military and economic assistance.
"We are prepared to consider additional political, economic
and security options as Iraq's government starts to build a
new government," he told a news conference in Australia,
where he also reaffirmed that Washington would not send
"The best thing for stability in Iraq is for an inclusive
government to bring the disaffected parties to the table and
work with them in order to make sure there is the kind of
sharing of power and decision-making that people feel
confident the government represents all of their interests,"
It remains unclear how much support Maliki, who remains
acting premier, has to obstruct the formation of a new
administration. One senior government official told Reuters
that his fears of a military standoff in the capital had
eased as police and troops had reduced their presence on the
"Yesterday Baghdad was very tense," he said. "But key
military commanders have since contacted the president and
said they would support him and not Maliki."
In both Shi'ite and Sunni districts of the capital, many
spoke of a sense of relief and cautious hope for change.
"I'm very happy Maliki will not be prime minister again. I
hate him; he killed my sons and broke my heart," said
68-year-old Um Aqeel as she walked in the Karrada shopping
Saying two of her sons had died in violence in the past year
- one while serving as a soldier in the north in May - she
said: "Maliki knows only the language of war and never
believes in peace, just like Saddam. Yesterday when I heard
he was out I felt justice has been done by God, and my two
beloved sons who were killed because of him will rest in
But as Um Aqeel offered sweets to passers-by in the mainly
Shi'ite area to share her satisfaction, one man, Murtadha
al-Waeli, warned her angrily that she was wrong to celebrate.
"Soon you will all regret Maliki's going," he said. "It was
he who built a strong army. Iraq will fall apart after
Maliki, and we will lose the battle with the terrorists.
Shi'ites will pay a high price for losing Maliki. Just wait
In the mainly Sunni district of Adhamiya, where many people
have long resented what they saw as Maliki's determination to
keep Sunnis out of positions of influence, cafe owner Khalid
Saad said he hoped Abadi would learn a lesson from the past
by keeping his distance from Iran and leaving Sunnis in
"Maliki treated us Sunni like aliens," he said. "We hope
Abadi will learn from Maliki's fatal mistakes and pull the
country back from its sea of troubles." (Additional reporting
by Raheem Salman in Baghdad and Lesley Wroughton in Sydney
and; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; editing by David Stamp)