BAGHDAD — Iraq’s political crisis deepened Monday, with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordering military units to take up positions in the capital, while the coalition his political party belongs to nominated a rival to succeed him as head of the government.
President Fouad Massoum selected Haider al-Abadi, Parliament’s deputy speaker, to replace Mr. Maliki as prime minister, asking him to form a new government within 30 days.
Mr. Maliki, however, showed no sign that he intended to give up his grip on power, and it was difficult to predict how the power struggle would end.
Mr. Maliki’s government will remain in place until Mr. Abadi announces a new one and receives approval from Parliament.
Mr. Maliki’s Dawa political party appeared split on whether to continue backing him — Mr. Abadi also is a Dawa member — but the expected delay in naming a government and then winning Parliament’s approval, perhaps as long as six weeks, could provide Mr. Maliki with time to win support from other Shiite Muslim factions and thwart Mr. Abadi’s efforts.
Mr. Abadi “only represents himself,” Khalaf Abdul-Samad, who like Mr. Maliki and Mr. Abadi is a Dawa member, said at a televised news conference.
Dawa allies from the Badr Organization, another Shiite political grouping, said they, too, had opposed Mr. Abadi’s selection. Badr’s leader, Hadi al-Amiri, told Iraqi media that he did not sign on to Mr. Abadi’s nomination.
Mr. Abadi pledged to move quickly “to protect the people.”
The National Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of Shiite political parties that includes Dawa, chose Mr. Abadi as prime minister less than a day after Mr. Maliki announced that he would take Mr. Massoum to court over alleged constitutional violations.
Mr. Maliki also consolidated elite Iraqi troops around the sprawling government complex known as the International Zone late Sunday. Soldiers and police stood guard at many street corners, some on foot and some in trucks mounted with machine guns.
To outsiders, the troop movements looked suspiciously like an effort to intimidate Mr. Maliki’s opponents, and the United Nations issued a statement urging the soldiers not to disrupt the political process.
Maliki opponents decried the troop deployments. “The prime minister is getting kind of crazy,” said Kurdish lawmaker Serwan Abdullah Ismail. But others saw nothing nefarious in the troop movements, including Mr. Abadi, who described the deployments on Twitter as “in anticipation of security threats.”
Western leaders embraced Mr. Abadi immediately. At a news conference at Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where he is on vacation, President Barack Obama praised Mr. Massoum for naming a new prime minister, calling the move a “promising step.” He added, “The only lasting solution is for Iraqis to come together and form an inclusive government.”
Later, the White House said Mr. Obama had spoken directly with Mr. Abadi, and that “both leaders agreed on the importance of forming an inclusive government representative of all communities as soon as possible.”
Vice President Joe Biden called Mr. Massoum to congratulate him on the appointment, then spoke with Mr. Abadi. “The vice president relayed President Obama’s congratulations and restated his commitment to fully support a new and inclusive Iraqi government, particularly in its fight against ISIL,” a White House summary said of the call, using the U.S. government’s preferred acronym for the Islamic State.
Earlier in the day, Secretary of State John Kerry said Mr. Maliki’s actions could lead the United States to withhold further military assistance just days after U.S. jets and drones began launching airstrikes against Islamic State positions in northern Iraq. “One thing all Iraqis need to know, that there will be little international support of any kind whatsoever for anything that deviates from the legitimate constitutional process that is in place and being worked on now,” he said.
For months, U.S. officials have urged Mr. Maliki to step down, contending that his divisive leadership stood in the way of unifying the country against Islamic State militants who since June have seized territory in Iraq’s northern and western regions.
Mr. Maliki maintained that he was best-qualified to lead the country in its war against the militants, after serving as prime minister for the past eight years and building the nation’s security forces around his own leadership.
Mr. Maliki’s allies held their ground after Mr. Massoum’s televised address announcing Mr. Abadi’s appointment. They called the decision illegal, arguing that the nomination should have come specifically from Mr. Maliki’s State of Law coalition, a smaller grouping that includes Dawa and the Badr Organization. Instead, the nomination came from the broader National Iraqi Alliance, which in addition to Dawa and Badr includes other Shiite Muslim political factions.
“Haider al-Abadi was not nominated by State of Law, and nominating him has no legal value,” Mr. Maliki’s political adviser, Maryam al-Ries, told al Sumaria TV.
Four years ago, Mr. Maliki made the opposite argument to Iraq’s supreme court after State of Law came in second place in national elections. Back then, Mr. Maliki argued that the broader coalition was the one whose seats should be taken into account, and the court agreed — allowing him to be named for another term as prime minister.
Shiite lawmakers who have broken with Mr. Maliki believe that the court will uphold the precedent of the 2010 decision and allow Mr. Abadi’s government to move forward. “Today was a very big step forward,” said Hamid al-Khudhari, an alliance lawmaker from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.
Mr. Abadi has held positions in the Iraqi government since just after the U.S. invasion. He was the communications director for the Iraqi Governing Council in 2003 and once was a key adviser to Mr. Maliki. Both have their political roots in the Dawa party, which long challenged Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party government and whose leaders, including Mr. Maliki, found refuge in Iran.
By tradition since the U.S. occupation, Iraq chooses a Kurd to be president, a Shiite lawmaker to be prime minster and a Sunni to be speaker of Parliament. Mr. Massoum, a Kurd, asked the National Iraqi Alliance to nominate a prime minister, but the broad coalition failed to settle on a candidate until Monday. The deadline was Sunday.
Mr. Maliki on Monday submitted his complaint about Mr. Massoum to Iraqi’s supreme court. Conflicting reports emerged through the day on whether the court agreed with him.
Baghdad was tense. The government closed main roads and positioned gun trucks at intersections. Groups of soldiers and police clustered on street corners.
Thousands of young men marched through central Baghdad, carrying signs bearing Mr. Maliki’s image and chanting their support for him. They were dropped off in buses and protected by police and soldiers. “All of the nation is with you, Nouri al-Maliki,” they chantedwashington - United States - North America - Middle East - Barack Obama - Iraq - John Kerry - Joe Biden - Saddam Hussein - Nouri al-Maliki - Iraq government - Baghdad