Iraq’s Maliki steps aside as PM, backs replacement Abadi

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki shows his ink marked finger as he votes during parliamentary election in Baghdad in this April 30, 2014 file photo. Maliki has given up his fight to remain prime minister of Iraq and now supports his replacement,
Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki shows his ink marked finger as he votes during parliamentary election in Baghdad in this April 30, 2014 file photo. Maliki has given up his fight to remain prime minister of Iraq and now supports his replacement, Haider al-Abadi, state television reported on August 14, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BAGHDAD (REUTERS) - Facing enormous pressure at home and abroad to step aside, Nouri al-Maliki dropped his bid for a third term as prime minister of Iraq on Thursday and pledged support for his replacement, moderate Shi’ite Haider al-Abadi.

Appearing on state television flanked by Abadi and other Shi’ite politicians, Maliki spoke of the grave “terrorist”threat from Islamic State Sunni militants before giving up on his fight to stay on.

“I announce before you today, to ease the movement of the political process and the formation of the new government, the withdrawal of my candidacy in favour of brother Dr Haider al-Abadi,” said Maliki.

Abadi is seen as a far less polarising figure who has a chance of uniting Iraqis against Sunni insurgents who have captured large parts of the country in the north and west - including Iraq’s largest dam and five oil fields.

The announcement is likely to please the Sunni minority which dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s iron-fisted rule but was then sidelined by Maliki, a relative unknown when he came to power in 2006 with strong US backing.

The man who plotted against Saddam for years from exile drew comparisons with his former enemy, who had launched brutal crackdowns on Shi’ites and Kurds.

Critics accused Maliki of being an authoritarian leader with a sectarian agenda that drove Sunnis, including heavily-armed tribes, into the Islamic State camp and revived a sectarian civil war.