Al-Maliki rejects political settlement in Iraq

  • Article by: ROD NORDLAND , New York Times
  • Updated: July 2, 2014 - 8:05 PM

Iraq’s prime minister said fighting extremist insurgents is more important now.

The Iraqi prime minister, in an apparent rebuff to international critics, said Wednesday that finding a political settlement to the differences between the country’s factions was not as vital or urgent as fighting Sunni insurgents.

But in a conciliatory gesture, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also offered amnesty to anyone who fought with or supported the insurgents.

In a speech broadcast on the state television network, Al-Maliki also acknowledged the embarrassment a day earlier surrounding the efforts to form a new government, which collapsed soon after parliament convened.

“It was good to see people united and showing up, despite the weaknesses we saw and did not hope to see,” he said. After Kurdish and Shiite legislators swapped insults, the session adjourned. “We hope next session we will overcome this by cooperating together and being realistic,” he said.

International supporters of Iraq, including the United States, have criticized Al-Maliki for failing to form an inclusive government that brings Sunnis and Kurds onto its side in the fight against the extremists. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, and a range of Sunni-based allies enjoy wide support in many Sunni areas, and Kurdish leaders have taken advantage of the Iraqi army’s disarray to consolidate control over the autonomous Kurdistan region.

“Politicians in Iraq need to realize that it is no longer business as usual,” the top United Nations representative in Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said, criticizing the political impasse. U.S. officials have said that major military support for Iraq is dependent on a new, inclusive government being formed.

However, Al-Maliki appeared to reject that reasoning.

“The battle today is the security battle for the unity of Iraq,” he said. “I don’t believe there is anything more important than mobilizing people to support the security situation. Other things are important, but this is the priority.”

He said the political process could not proceed without a strong military. “We will move on in the political process,” he said, “but we have to focus on the battle, which is on behalf of the people.”

Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish politicians have refused to accept Al-Maliki as a candidate for a third term, and the majority Shiite coalition was maneuvering to determine his replacement. Both the powerful council of Shiite ayatollahs and the U.S. government have shown little enthusiasm for Al-Maliki to remain in power, although his party won the most votes in the April 30 elections.

“The Americans are putting the cart before the horse,” said Haider al-Abadi, a prominent member of Al-Maliki’s State of Law party. “Things on the ground are much more important. Solving them will help solve the political problem for us; this is life or death,” he said.

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