Iraq's Maliki rejects pressure to give up premiership

# 05 July 2014 03:11 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki refused on Friday to give up his quest for a third term in power, defying a chorus of critics demanding his replacement as the country faces an existential threat from Islamist insurgents, APA reports quoting Reuters.

Maliki has come under mounting pressure since militants of the group now calling itself the Islamic State rampaged through swathes of the country last month and declared a mediaeval-style caliphate on land they have captured in Iraq and neighboring Syria.

"I will never give up my candidacy for the post of prime minister," Maliki said in a statement read out on state television by an announcer.

"I will remain a soldier, defending the interests of Iraq and its people," he added, in the face of what he called terrorists and their allies.

He was referring to the Islamic State and some of the most prominent armed Sunni groups who have taken control of large parts of majority-Sunni regions of Iraq.

Maliki's statement will complicate the struggle to form a new government to unite the ethnically and religiously divided country, something parliament failed to achieve this week. It extends a political deadlock made all the more dangerous by the pressing threat to Iraq's territorial integrity.

Accused by his critics of exacerbating the country's sectarian split, Maliki has come under immense pressure to step down from his Sunni and Kurdish political foes, and even from some in his own Shi'ite camp.

In pointed comments in a Friday sermon read by an aide, the country's leading Shi'ite cleric said parliament's inability to form a new government at its first session was a "regrettable failure".

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani reiterated his call for the government to have "broad national acceptance", a formulation that many officials interpret as a call for Maliki - accused by Sunnis of marginalizing them and worsening ethnic tensions - to go.

Iraq's implosion has been watched with intense concern by the United States, which invaded in 2003 to topple dictator Saddam Hussein and withdraw in 2011 after a war that cost almost 4,500 American and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives.

Washington has deployed advisers to Iraq. U.S. military officials believe the Iraqi army will be able to defend Baghdad but struggle to recapture lost territory, mainly because of logistical weaknesses.