US officials consulting with Iraqi leaders to replace al-Maliki

Obama administration officials are urging Iraqi political leaders to replace Prime Minister Nouri-al Maliki, according to The New York Times.

In the last two days, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Robert S. Beecroft and Brett McGurk, the senior State Department official on Iraq and Iran, have met with both Shiite and Sunni leaders in Iraq.

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They met with Osama Nujaifi, leader of the Sunni contingent United for Reform, and with Ahmed Chalabi, a potential Shiite candidate for prime minister, the Times said. 

“Brett and the ambassador met with Mr. Nujaifi yesterday and they were open about this, they do not want Maliki to stay,” Nabil al-Khashab, the senior political adviser to Nujaifi, said Thursday. 

“We will not allow a third term for the prime minister; they must change him if they want things to calm down,” al-Khashab added.

Chalabi is a controversial figure in Iraq and the United States. A former oil minister in Iraq, Chalabi campaigned for the U.S. to strike former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the Iraq War as part of the Iraqi National Congress (INC). That group was formed in the early 1990s for the purpose of overthrowing Hussein.

There does appear to be bipartisan support in the United States to get rid of al-Maliki.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are among a number of lawmakers who have said the situation in Iraq can’t be resolved until al-Maliki steps down.  

But White House spokesman Jay Carney on Wednesday said Iraq's leadership wasn't up to the United States. 

"That's not obviously for us to decide," he said in response to a question about whether al-Maliki should step down.

Vice President Biden spoke with al-Maliki on Wednesday, urging him to govern in an inclusive manner that would promote stability in Iraq's population.

Al-Maliki on Thursday said he won’t resign in exchange for U.S. airstrikes against militants in Iraq, a military action President Obama is still considering.

"Our focus needs to be on urgent action – air support, logistic support, counter-intelligence support to defeat these terrorists who are posing a real danger to the stability of Iraq, to the whole region," al-Maliki spokesman Zuhair al-Nahar said, according to The Guardian.

Al-Maliki, who leads a Shiite government, “never used sectarian tactics” to shut out Sunnis, Nahar added.

Obama, meanwhile, will deliver a statement on Iraq Thursday afternoon after meeting with his national security advisers.