Tags: Iraq in Crisis | Iraq | unrest | politics | US

Obama Pulls Rug from Iraq PM, Rushes Arms to Kurds

Monday, 11 Aug 2014 08:02 PM

President Barack Obama on Monday pulled the plug on U.S. support for Iraq's controversial Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as Washington rushed arms to Kurds trying to hold back rampaging extremists.

Obama, who reluctantly last week launched U.S. air strikes in a country where he ended the U.S. war, voiced hope that a new prime minister would begin to ease the sectarian divisions that have fueled the crisis.

Obama said that he as well as Vice President Joe Biden called prime minister-designate Haidar al-Abadi, an erstwhile ally of Maliki who was tasked by President Fuad Masum with forming a new government.

Stressing his position that there is "no American military solution" to the Iraq crisis, Obama called Abadi's nomination "a promising step."

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"The only lasting solution is for Iraqis to come together and form an inclusive government," Obama said, after criticism that Maliki has ruled divisively to advance Iraq's Shiite majority.

"This new leadership has a difficult task to regain the confidence of its citizens by governing inclusively and taking steps to demonstrate its resolve," he told the press during his vacation in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Maliki has called the selection of Abadi, a member of his party and fellow Shiite, a violation of the Iraqi constitution carried out with U.S. support.

U.S. officials have scarcely hidden their displeasure with Maliki, who initially enjoyed Washington's support, although the State Department said it would still treat Maliki as prime minister until a new government is formed.

Obama — who did not mention Maliki by name once in his remarks — said he "pledged our support" to Abadi in his telephone call and called on the designated prime minister "to form a new cabinet as quickly as possible."

"I urge all Iraqi political leaders to work peacefully through the political process in the days ahead," Obama said.

Obama, who built his career on opposing the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, had long resisted a larger U.S. military role even as Sunni Muslim extremists from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) movement raced across the country from war-torn Syria.

But as the guerrillas neared the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Arbil, he last week authorized the use of force to protect U.S. personnel in the once tranquil city and to save members of the Yazidi minority who, according to Obama, faced genocide as Islamic State members kill non-Sunni Muslims.

Obama said that the United States has "stepped up military advice and assistance" to Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that the United States was rushing weapons to Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga, from stockpiles.

The weapons flow could further strain the self-governing Kurdish region's relationship with the central government. The United States has previously insisted on respecting Iraq's territorial integrity and routing arms through Baghdad.

Harf insisted that, in the crisis, the United States was working "very closely" with both sides and that there was an "unprecedented level of cooperation" between Iraqi forces and the peshmerga.

The U.S. military confirmed that it had carried out another air strike late Sunday against an Islamic State convoy it said was preparing to attack Kurdish forces protecting their capital Arbil.

But Obama has ruled out sending back ground troops and has said that it is up to Iraq's government, not the United States, to defeat ISIL.

Lieutenant General William Mayville, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, said there would be no mission creep.

"There are no plans to expand the current air campaign beyond the current self-defense activities," he said.

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© AFP 2015

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