Power shift underway in Iraq as Maliki faces challenger

BY newsdesk  August 11, 2014 at 1:40 AM EST

Iraqis hold placards reading in Arabic "Maliki is our choice" during a demonstration to support Iraq's prime minister on August 11, 2014 in Baghdad's central Saadoun Street. Photo by Amer al-Saedi/AFP/Getty Images

Iraqis hold placards reading in Arabic “Maliki is our choice” during a demonstration to support Iraq’s prime minister on August 11, 2014 in Baghdad’s central Saadoun Street. Photo by Amer al-Saedi/AFP/Getty Images

A potential power shift is underway in Iraq on Monday as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki finds himself being pushed out of the government. Iraq’s president, Fouad Massoum, nominated Haider al-Abadi, a fellow member of Mr. Maliki’s Shiite Islamist Dawa Party, as prime minister. The move takes Iraq’s government into “unchartered territory,” the New York Times reports.

Maliki supporters marched in the streets chanting support for the embattled prime minister, and militias and leaders across Iraq braced for a potential attempt at a military coup, but as yet Maliki has not made an obvious move to retain power.

A new prime minister could be a welcome development for people inside and outside Iraq. Maliki’s leadership, many contend, has fueled sectarian tensions and marginalized the Sunni and Kurdish minorities in the Iraqi government. Before the news of Mr. al-Abadi’s appointment came down, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement in support of the Iraqi president, the AP reports.

Speaking to reporters in Sydney, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. stands “absolutely squarely behind President Massoum,” and called for restraint.

“What we urge the people of Iraq to do is to be calm,” Kerry said. “There should be no use force, no introduction of troops or militias into this moment of democracy for Iraq.”

Kerry said a new government “is critical in terms of sustaining the stability and calm in Iraq,” and that “our hope is that Mr. Maliki will not stir those waters.”

As Domenico Montanaro wrote in today’s Morning Line, the political situation in Iraq has a direct effect on politics in the U.S.:

The longer the U.S. is in Iraq — and the longer the country is unstable — President Obama may have his own political crisis back home, especially considering Americans have shown little appetite for more international intervention.

Al-Abadi has 30 days to build a coalition government that represents the needs of Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurdish minorities. In the meantime, Maliki remains in the prime minister position, overseeing Iraq’s military.