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Iraq's PM warns of more turmoil if he is replaced

By Sameer N. Yacoub

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 13 2014 10:49 a.m. MDT

Pro-government supporters of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, chant slogans during a demonstration in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Aug 13, 2014. Tanks and Humvees were positioned on Baghdad bridges and at major intersections on Wednesday, with security personnel more visible than usual as pro-Maliki demonstrators took to Firdous Square in the capital, pledging their allegiance to him. Arabic on the placard at right reads, "al-Maliki is our choice."

Karim Kadim, Associated Press

BAGHDAD — Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Wednesday he will not relinquish power until a federal court rules on what he claims is a "constitutional violation" by the president to replace him with a member of his own party.

The embattled premier has grown increasingly isolated, with Iraqi politicians and much of the international community lining up behind prime minister-designate, Haider al-Abadi, a fellow member of al-Maliki's Shiite Dawa party. Al-Abadi was picked by President Fouad Massoum to form a new government that can unite the country in the face of an onslaught by Sunni militants.

"Holding on (to the premiership) is an ethical and patriotic duty to defend the rights of voters," al-Maliki said Wednesday in his weekly address to the nation, insisting his actions were meant to "protect the state."

Al-Maliki on Monday vowed legal action, saying he would go to the courts to prove the president's choice of al-Abadi was "a coup" against the constitution.

As international supports mounts for al-Abadi, Iraqi troops imposed heightened security in Baghdad on Wednesday. Tanks and Humvees were positioned on Baghdad bridges and at major intersections, with security personnel more visible than usual as about 100 al-Maliki supporters rallied at Firdous Square.

Widespread discontent with al-Maliki's divisive rule has reached the point where both Saudi Arabia and Iran — regional rivals often bitterly divided over Iraq — have expressed support for al-Abadi. The United States, the European Union and the United Nations have also offered support for new leadership.

In Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed hope Wednesday that "a government will be formed so that they (Iraqis) can give the necessary and appropriate response to the sedition-makers." Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it hoped al-Abadi will establish "a comprehensive national government that includes all components of the Iraqi people."

But al-Maliki, whose bloc won the most votes in April elections, has refused to step down and seeks a third term in office. Al-Abadi was selected by the main Shiite alliance which includes al-Maliki's bloc, the Islamic Dawa party, which says al-Abadi "only represents himself."

At a meeting between al-Maliki and senior military commanders broadcast on state television Tuesday, the incumbent premier warned that security forces should not get involved in politics. He also raised the specter of further unrest by saying Sunni militants or Shiite militiamen might don military uniforms and try to take control of the streets and "make things worse."

Since June, Iraq has been facing an onslaught by the Islamic State group and allied Sunni militants across much of the country's north and west. Fueled by widespread Sunni discontent with al-Maliki's rule, the insurgency seized Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, and routed beleaguered armed forces. Thousands of people have been killed and more than 1.5 million displaced by the violence.

The militant advance slowed as they approached Baghdad and other majority Shiite areas, but the capital still sees near daily attacks.

On Wednesday, attacks in and near Baghdad killed at least 29 people and wounded scores more, police said.

A car bomb in eastern New Baghdad killed eight while six people, including four police officers, died when a car bomb struck a checkpoint in western Baghdad. A bomb at a central market killed five people while two died in a bombing in the commercial Karrada district. A car bomb in the Baiyaa neighborhood killed four and four more died in a mortar attack north of the capital.

The Islamic State's onslaught has uprooted thousands of members of Iraq's Yazidi religious minority after the militants overran their town of Sinjar earlier this month. The Islamic extremists view the Yazidis as apostates and have vowed to kill all those who do not convert.

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