President Barack Obama has made plain that the United States squarely supports the removal of Nouri al-Maliki as caretaker prime minister of Iraq and urged the man chosen to replace him, deputy speaker of the parliament, Haider al-Ibadi, to move forward quickly with formation of a new unity cabinet.
Taking time out from his own holiday in Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, Mr Obama characterised the political developments in Iraq, triggered by the designation of Mr al-Ibadi by Iraq’s president Fouad Massum, as a “promising step forward” towards ending the political haggling that has consumed Baghdad even as the country confronts the assault by Isis forces in its north and west.
His appearance before the cameras on Monday night was a clear message to Mr al-Maliki that the attempt he appears to be making to cling on to power will meet with stern US disapproval. The president, who last week authorised limited air strikes against Isis fighters as well as humanitarian air drops to members of religious minorities threatened with mass slaughter, did not mention Mr al-Maliki by name, but he hardly had to.
He similarly sent a message to Mr al-Ibadi, now prime minister designate, that the US would expect him to use the moment to build a government of unity, something which al-Maliki has failed to do. “I urge him to form a new cabinet as quickly as possible, one that is inclusive of all Iraqis and representative of all Iraqis,” Mr Obama said, adding that he and Vice President Joe Biden and both spoken directly to Mr al-Ibadi by telephone.
Video: 'The only lasting solution is for Iraqis to come together'
Speaking for only a few minutes and taking no questions, the president meanwhile reported that US air assets had successfully carried out strikes in support of Kurdish forces in the north and were continuing with the air drops with help from other countries. “I want to thank in particular the United Kingdom and France,” he said.
Earlier, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, had issued an impatient warning to Mr al-Maliki not to try to exploit political tensions to hold on to power and defy his president. The government formation process is critical in terms of sustaining stability and calm in Iraq, and our hope is that Mr Maliki will not stir those waters,” he said. “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 constitution process that is in place and being worked on now.”