Iraq crisis: Sunni and Shia tribal and clerical leaders agree to back new PM

Iraq has been in deadlock since extremist Sunni fighters advanced across the country in June

Both Sunni and Shia tribal and clerical leaders have given their conditional backing to Iraq’s new Prime Minister, in a move that could end political deadlock and ultimately contain an offensive by extremist Sunni Islamic State (IS) militants.

Newly designated Shia Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi must now attempt to pacify the vast desert province of Anbar bordering Syria, which is in large parts controlled by IS fighters. His predecessor who stepped down yesterday, Nouri al-Maliki, was accused of alienating the country’s Sunni minority, which in turn tempted some in the province to join the IS revolt.

Taha Mohammed al-Hamdoon, spokesman for the tribal and clerical leaders, told reporters that Sunni representatives in Anbar and other provinces had drawn up a list of demands which would be delivered through Sunni politicians to Abadi.

On Friday, Iraq's most influential Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said Abadi’s appointment offered a rare opportunity to resolve Iraq’s crisis, which has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing for their lives.


Read more: President Barack Obama says US airstrikes in Iraq
Britain is prepared to arm Kurdish fighters to push back Isis

In comments relayed by his spokesman after weekly Friday prayers in the Shia holy city of Kerbala, the octogenarian went on to warn the country’s feuding politicians to fulfil their “historic responsibility” by cooperating with Abadi as he attempts to form a new government and mend divisions between the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish.

Meanwhile, Ali Hatem Suleiman, one of the most influential tribal leaders in Iraq’s Sunni heartland, said he would work with Shia Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi, on the grounds that a new government would respect the rights of the Sunni Muslims.

He added the decision to take up arms against the Islamic State fighters – who formerly called themselves Isis – would come later.  In 2009, he and others joined US and Shia-led government forces to thwart an al-Qa'ida insurgency in Iraq between 2006 and 2009.

The appointment of Abadi has drawn widespread support within Iraq but also from the United States and Iran, the regional Shia power.

In Brussels on Friday, EU foreign ministers called on al-Abadi to urgently form a government that will be "inclusive and able to address the needs and legitimate aspirations of all the Iraqi citizens." 

EU ministers pledged to step up efforts to help those fleeing advancing Islamic State militants, with several nations announcing they will fly dozens of tons of aid to northern Iraq over the coming days.

France has pledged to ship weapons to the Kurds, while tee UK is delivering ammunition and military supplies obtained from eastern European nations and is considering sending more weaponry. Germany, the Netherlands and others said they would also consider requests to arm the Kurds.

Additional reporting by AP

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