Iraq's political power struggle ends as Maliki stands down
Nouri al-Maliki says he will back 'brother' Haider al-Abadi as prime minister for sake of Iraq's unity
Nouri al-Maliki has finally stepped down as Iraqi prime minister, ending the country's political deadlock and offering a glimmer of hope for stability in the region.
The 64-year-old had refused to resign after eight years in power, arguing that he was the leader of an alliance that won the most parliamentary seats in the nationwide April elections.
But as Islamic State militants advance across Iraq, he has faced mounting pressure to relinquish power to his Shi'ite rival Haider al-Abadi.
Yesterday, he stood alongside Abadi and announced that he would back the efforts of his "brother" in forming a new government for the sake of Iraq's unity.
"I announce before you today, to ease the movement of the political process and the formation of the new government, the withdrawal of my candidacy in favour of brother Doctor Haider al-Abadi," he said. Maliki has also withdrawn a legal case that he had lodged against President Fouad Massoum for nominating Abadi as the new Iraqi leader.
The speech was "heralded as historic in a region where the smooth handover of power in a democratic framework is rare", says the Washington Post. It also opens the door for further military support from the US, which had urged the country to replace Maliki with a more unifying figure.
Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and Iran, which wields significant influence in Iraqi politics, had apparently played a role in ushering Maliki out. The final decision was made after a meeting with senior members of his party. One senior Shi'ite politician said Maliki had been "at a dead-end road" but said that "hopefully" his resignation will "help to bring stability".
Nevertheless, concerns have been raised that Abadi, a long-term member of Maliki's Dawa party, is too closely associated with the outgoing premier.
Hayder al-Khoei, an Iraq analyst at London's Chatham House think tank, told the Washington Post that Abadi will face the "same problems" as Maliki, including the Islamic State crisis. "The outlook is bleak," he said, "but there's hope at least."