ANKARA/BAGHDAD: Iran believes Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is no longer able to hold his country together and is looking for an alternative leader to combat a Sunni Islamist insurgency, senior Iranian officials said Tuesday.
Political deadlock since an inconclusive general election in April has paralyzed efforts to fight back against ISIS rebels who have captured swaths of northern and western Iraq and Syria and have threatened to march on Baghdad.
One Iranian official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said Tehran was working with Iraqi factions to seek a replacement for Maliki, but there were few viable alternatives.
“We have reached the conclusion that Maliki cannot preserve the unity of Iraq anymore, but Ayatollah [Ali] Sistani still has hopes,” said the Iranian official, referring to Iraq’s top Shiite cleric. “Now, Ayatollah Sistani also backs our view on Maliki.”
“There are not many candidates who can and have the capability to preserve the unity of Iraq. Our ambassador to Iraq has had some meetings in the past days with relevant groups and some of the candidates,” the Iranian official said.
Political allies said Maliki, seen as an authoritarian figure whose sectarian agenda has destabilized Iraq, had no intention of stepping aside despite mounting pressure from Sunnis, Kurds, some fellow Shiites and now Iran. Maliki has stayed on in a caretaker capacity since the April vote and said he would seek a third term, despite widespread opposition.
An Iraqi minister, speaking on condition of anonymity because of sectarian tensions within the caretaker government, confirmed that there was a marked change in the position of Tehran, the biggest foreign influence in Iraq.
Full article: Iran seeks alternative to Maliki to hold Iraq together (The Daily Star)