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Maliki Abandoned by Own Party in Bid to Keep Hold of Power

Aug. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s effort to remain in office was repudiated by his own political bloc, leaving him isolated after a similar rejection by the U.S., Iran and Iraq’s top Shiite cleric.

The Dawa Party urged political leaders to spurn Maliki and cooperate with his designated successor, Haidar al-Abadi, after party officials sought “guidance” from the cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. While Maliki has denounced the process to replace him as unconstitutional, an aide and a Dawa lawmaker said today he was in talks with Abadi on a resolution to the crisis.

“His eminence sees a necessity in choosing a new prime minister with broad national support,” the Dawa Party, of which Abadi is also a leading member, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

The standoff following inconclusive April elections has exacerbated a power vacuum and hindered efforts to counter Islamic State insurgents who have seized large parts of Iraq since June. It has also forced the U.S., France, and other countries to assist Kurdish forces in the country’s north in a bid to staunch a militant advance marked by mass executions and the flight of tens of thousands of Iraqis from their homes.

Parliament Dispute

Khalid al-Asady, a lawmaker and spokesman for the Dawa party, said Maliki was engaged in “serious” talks and that an announcement will soon be made. Tareq Harb, a legal adviser, said “we will hear some good news” as soon as this afternoon.

“The problem has been solved within the Dawa party and the reconciliation between Maliki and Abadi has taken place,” Harb said by phone from Baghdad.

Maliki has argued that the State of Law bloc, which he ran under during the election and which includes Dawa, is parliament’s largest. His opponents say the National Alliance, a broader Shiite coalition, have more seats and therefore the right to present an alternative candidate to lead the government. Maliki has said he’ll contest Abadi’s nomination in court and won’t step down before a ruling.

“The State of Law is the largest bloc,” Mariam al-Rayes, Maliki’s adviser, said in a telephone interview from Baghdad. “The president is obliged, and has no choice in this, to ask the candidate of the bloc” to form a government.

Inclusive Government

Abadi, who was born in 1952, has until mid-September to form a cabinet for what the U.S. says should be an “inclusive” government that can reverse sectarian actions imposed by Maliki that fueled Sunni support for Islamic State and Kurdish threats of independence for their region.

Abadi’s nomination has had the unusual effect of drawing support both from the U.S. and from neighboring Iran, which has major influence with Iraq’s Shiites and funds Shiite militia groups. The European Union and the Arab League have also backed Masoum’s appointment of Abadi.

EU foreign ministers will be looking for signs of greater unity when they meet tomorrow in Brussels to discuss Iraq and Ukraine. France and Britain preempted a green light from all 28 EU members and yesterday started supplying Kurdish forces with weapons. Germany and Italy have indicated they may follow.

Fighting Continues

In northern Iraq, Kurdish peshmerga troops bolstered by recent U.S. air strikes fought the Islamic State militants near the town of Sinjar, according to Nineveh provincial council member Hisham al-Brefkani said by phone yesterday.

Islamic State, a Sunni group that began as an al-Qaeda affiliate in 2003, has rampaged through northern Iraq, inspiring reports of beheadings and crucifixions. Its fighters have captured strategic assets to fund a self-declared Islamic caliphate announced in June and which stretches across the frontier into Syria.

Kurdish forces are fighting to “retake all the bases the peshmerga lost or used to control,” Brefkani said from Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region. The Kurds’ objectives include the strategic Mosul dam, Iraq’s largest, he said.

U.S. troops flew to Sinjar mountain in northern Iraq yesterday to assess a potential military rescue mission for the Yezidis, a religious minority threatened with death as apostates by the Islamic State group. Tens of thousands of Yezidis fled into the mountains to avoid Islamic State’s onslaught, with many later moving into Kurdish-held territory.

Rescue Unlikely

The U.S. troops found fewer trapped civilians than expected, making it “far less likely” that they will conduct a rescue, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters at Andrews Air Force base near Washington. The troops are among 129 U.S. military advisers dispatched to the region.

In a sign of how the Islamic State’s campaign has affected regional economies, Turkey today said its current account deficit, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, widened to $4.1 billion in June from a revised $3.5 billion the previous month. Iraq is the second largest destination for Turkish exports and the militants now control some highways leading to Baghdad.

Turkey has also asked the U.S. to lift obstacles to Iraqi Kurds selling their oil directly, rather than through the national government in Baghdad, The Financial Times reported, citing an unidentified Turkish official.

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