State backs Iraq prime minister nominee

The United States on Monday congratulated Iraq's nominated replacement for Nouri al-Maliki, even as the sitting prime minister insisted he should get a third term and accused his political opponents of staging a coup.

"We congratulate Dr. Hayder al-Abadi on the nomination and urge him to form a new cabinet and national program as swiftly as possible," said Brett McGurk, the deputy assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, on Twitter. "The United States stands ready to fully support a new and inclusive Iraqi government, particularly in its fight against ISIS.

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The State Department's embrace of al-Abadi's nomination is the latest sign of dissipating U.S. support for Maliki. Despite warnings from the U.S., Maliki, a Shiite, has spent recent years purging Sunni officials from the government and military, earning the ire of other sectarian leaders.

The White House has repeatedly refused to call for Maliki's ouster, saying the decision is up to the people of Iraq, but offered little support for the embattled prime minister.

"Those kinds of decisions about who should be prime minister of the nation of Iraq will be made solely by the people of Iraq and by Iraq’s political leaders," press secretary Josh Earnest said last week. "So, it is not the position of the United States that one person or another should be the prime minister of Iraq. Rather, what we have said is that Iraq’s political leaders should choose a prime minister that will pursue a governing agenda that is inclusive of Iraq’s diverse population."

Over the weekend, Maliki defiantly accused Iraqi President Fouad Massoum of launching "a coup against the constitution and the political process" in a surprise television address. Maliki said he would petition the nation's federal court and has reportedly deployed militia troops onto the streets of Baghdad, sparking additional concern about a possible constitutional crisis.

McGurk said the U.S. "fully support[ed]" Massoum and believed he could "build a national consensus."

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf voiced concern about Maliki's judicial challenge.

“We reaffirm our support for a process to select a Prime Minister who can represent the aspirations of the Iraqi people by building a national consensus and governing in an inclusive manner. We reject any effort to achieve outcomes through coercion or manipulation of the constitutional or judicial process,” Harf said.

Separately, the Pentagon announced Monday that it had continued to conduct airstrikes on Sunday, successfully targeting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) rebels engaging with Kurdish forces near Irbil. According to the Pentagon, multiple U.S. fighter jets struck and destroyed vehicles that were part of an ISIS convoy moving toward Kurdish forces outside the city.