After two days of defiance and the deployment of special security units around the Iraqi capital that raised the specter of a coup, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki on Tuesday appeared to back away from his implied threat of using military force to secure his power by saying the army should stay out of politics.
On Monday, Iraq’s president nominated a candidate to replace Mr. Maliki, who then challenged the decision by saying it was unconstitutional. On Tuesday, Mr. Maliki backed down, at least rhetorically, from his intransigence in the face of growing opposition to his rule.
Iran, a longtime supporter of Mr. Maliki, also lent its weight on Tuesday to the constitutional process of replacing him with the new candidate, Haider al-Abadi, adding pressure on Mr. Maliki to retreat from his threats. The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, congratulated Mr. Abadi during a meeting of Iranian ambassadors, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
The Obama administration, which has deployed United States warplanes to help the Iraqi government battle a marauding force of Sunni militants in northern and western Iraq, has also been pressuring Mr. Maliki to move aside. President Obama and his top aide congratulated Mr. Abadi on Monday and exhorted him to quickly form an inclusive government that would depart from Mr. Maliki’s polarizing policies, which have alienated many in the Sunni and Kurd minorities.
Mr. Maliki’s office released a statement on his website that said: “Prime Minister Maliki urges commanders, officers and individuals to stay away from the political crisis and to commit to their military and security duties and tasks to protect the country, and not to intervene in this crisis. Leave this issue to the people, politicians and justice.”
Shortly after the statement was released, Mr. Maliki appeared on state television, sitting around a table with his military commanders, where he delivered the same message.
Mr. Maliki did not back away from the threat of a legal challenge to the nomination of Mr. Abadi, a lawmaker from Mr. Maliki’s own Shiite Islamist Dawa Party.
But any legal challenge – which would be based on Mr. Maliki’s contention that he has a legal right to the first attempt at forming a new government, because his bloc won the most seats in April’s national elections – is considered quixotic, because he has lost much of the support within his own party.
Reidar Visser, a historian and expert on Iraqi politics, wrote on Monday on his website, “Maliki’s promise to bring the case before the Iraqi federal supreme court will be of academic interest only.”