Despite sharp criticism from almost every political party in Iraq and pressure from friendly foreign powers to step down, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki announced Friday that he would seek a third term as prime minister.
He never suggested that he would step down. But the chorus of criticism over his sectarian policies, which helped create the conditions that led to a large portion of the country falling to Islamic extremists, had left many believing that lacking supporters, he might relinquish power.
They appear to have underestimated his desire to hold on to it.
“I will not give up my candidacy for a third term,” Mr. Maliki announced in a statement read on Iraqiya, the state television channel.
He noted that the bloc of lawmakers that supported his nomination was the largest in the Parliament and that they should not be asked to meet any conditions imposed by other legislative groups, such as supporting a different candidate
Suggesting he was akin to a soldier who does not desert the battlefield, Mr. Maliki said he would “defend Iraq and its people” against “terrorists,” a reference to members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the Sunni extremist group that has taken control of many cities in the north and west of the country, including Mosul, the country’s second-largest urban area.
Iraq’s Embattled Leader
Elected in 2006 as a compromise candidate, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki now heads a shaky Shiite-led government in a fractured country facing a mortal threat from Sunni insurgents.
- From an educated middle-class Shiite background. Active in sectarian politics since the early 1970s, when he joined the mainly Shiite Islamic Dawa Party.
- In 1978 he fled to Syria, returning in 2002, just before the American-led invasion.
- Was deputy chairman of the commission that purged members of Saddam Hussein’s party from public life, earning the enmity of many Sunnis.
- Worked to win over Sunni tribal leaders and campaigned against sectarianism in 2007-9.
- Built and maintained ties with Iran, where he spent time while in exile.
- Split with former allies and formed his own political coalition in 2010.
- Did not reach agreement with the United States to retain American troops in the country.
- Has come under growing criticism for amassing personal power and favoring Shiite interests.
Mr. Maliki’s language, which had an almost messianic tone, suggested he would prove difficult to dislodge and that the negotiations over forming a new government could drag on for weeks, if not months.
His statement defied not just other lawmakers but also Iraq’s senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who on Friday said the Parliament’s inability to form a government at its first meeting on Tuesday was a “disappointing failure.”
Speaking through his representative, Ahmed al-Safi, Ayatollah Sistani said that Iraq’s politicians must form a government “rapidly” and adhere to the constitutional schedule, which calls for a complete government to be in place by mid-August. Most important, Mr. Safi said, the government must reflect “national consensus.”
Mr. Safi also indirectly admonished the Kurds and other groups not to take advantage of the demographic shifts caused by the exodus of many minority groups from areas taken over by Sunni militants.
Fears have grown that the Kurds will use the situation to extend their sphere of influence. They have already done that in Kirkuk, a disputed city in a northern area endowed with oil. Among the minorities mentioned by Mr. Safi were Christians, Turkmens, and Shabak — an ethnic and religious minority with its own language, akin to Persian.
Instead, the ayatollah’s representative said, both the Kurdish regional government and the central government must do everything they can to help the displaced minorities. The United Nations estimates that more than one million Iraqis have been displaced in just the current conflict with Sunni extremists.
“There are no appropriate and instant procedures to help those people get accommodation, food and medical care,” Mr. Safi said.
In other insurgency-related developments, a suicide bomber attacked an assembly point for the Iraqi Army’s Fourth Brigade in the northern province of Salahuddin, killing 12 soldiers and seriously wounding 15, according to an officer in the brigade, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.
The bombing took place about 30 miles south of Tikrit, the provincial capital, where the army has begun a major offensive to expel ISIS fighters from the city.
In Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded on the main thoroughfare through Ghazaliya, a neighborhood where Sunnis and Shiites live on opposite sides of the street.
And east of Falluja in Anbar Province, which Sunni militants have occupied for months, there was heavy fighting late Friday as the insurgents exploded a bridge, according to Iraqi Army officers, who said the full extent of the damage was hard to tell at night. The upheavals caused by the Sunni militant advance over the past few weeks also left dozens of foreigners caught in the mayhem. On Friday, 46 Indian nurses who had been working at a hospital in Tikrit were allowed to leave insurgent-held territory for Erbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region.
United News of India reported that the nurses, and 70 other Indians who had been trapped in the combat zones, would fly home early Saturday aboard a chartered Air India plane.