Iraq places unity below fighting rebels


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BAGHDAD — The Iraqi prime minister, in an apparent rebuff to his international critics, said Wednesday that finding a political settlement to the differences between the country’s factions was not as important or urgent as fighting extremist 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 Iraqiya, the state television network, Mr. Maliki also acknowledged the embarrassment a day earlier surrounding the efforts to form a new government, which collapsed after the new parliament adjourned within half an hour of convening. “It was good to see people united and showing up, despite the weaknesses we saw and did not hope to see,” he said.

Kurdish and Shiite legislators exchanged insults, and the session adjourned for a week. “We hope the next session we will overcome this by cooperating together and being realistic,” he said.

International supporters of Iraq, including the United States, have criticized Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, for failing to form an inclusive government that brings Sunni Arabs and Kurds onto its side in the fight against the extremists. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, 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 their control over the autonomous Kurdistan region, including the disputed city of Kirkuk.

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

But Mr. 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 would not be able to 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 Mr. Maliki as a candidate for a third term, and the majority Shiite coalition was maneuvering to determine his replacement. Both the powerful marja, or council of Shiite ayatollahs, and the U.S. government have shown little enthusiasm for Mr. Maliki to remain in power, although his own party won the April 30 elections.

“The Americans are putting the cart before the horse,” said Haider al-Abadi, a prominent member of Mr. Maliki’s State of Law party. “Things on the ground are much more important.”

United States - North America - United States government - Middle East - Barack Obama - Iraq - John Kerry - Nouri al-Maliki - Iraq government - Baghdad - Massoud Barzani - Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant


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