December 19, 2014
Irak PM Maliki stands with Sunni leaders, appealing for Iraqi unity
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki broadcast a joint appeal for national unity today with bitter Sunni critics of his Shi'ite-led government - a move that may help him win US help against rampant Islamists threatening Baghdad.
Just hours after Maliki's Shi'ite allies had angrily vowed to boycott any cooperation with the biggest Sunni party and his government had accused Sunni neighbour Saudi Arabia of backing "genocide", the premier's visibly uncomfortable televised appearance may reflect US impatience with its Baghdad protege.
In a rerun of previous failed efforts at bridging sectarian and ethnic divisions, Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders met behind closed doors and then stood frostily before cameras as Maliki's Shi'ite predecessor Ibrahim al-Jaafari read a statement denouncing "terrorist powers" and supporting Iraqi sovereignty.
US President Barack Obama is considering military options to push back al Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has swept the Sunni north of the country over the past week as the Shi'ite-led army has crumbled.
But in return Washington want Maliki to do more to address the widespread sense of political exclusion among minority Sunnis which ISIL has exploited to win support among tribal leaders and former followers of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.
"No terrorist powers represent any sect or religion," Jaafari said in the address, which included a broad promise of "reviewing the previous course" of Iraqi politics. Afterwards, most of the leaders, including Maliki and Usama al-Nujaifi, the leading Sunni present, walked away from each other in silence.
Earlier, Maliki's government accused Saudi Arabia, the main Sunni power, of backing ISIL - something Riyadh denies.
"We hold them responsible for supporting these groups financially and morally and for its outcome - which includes crimes that may qualify as genocide: the spilling of Iraqi blood, the destruction of Iraqi state institutions and historic and religious sites," a government statement said.
Maliki has blamed Saudi Arabia for supporting militants in the past, but the language was unprecedented. Yesterday, Riyadh blamed sectarianism in Baghdad for fuelling the violence.
Maliki, who has been buoyed by a call by Iraq's senior Shi'ite cleric for citizens to rally to the armed forces, dismissed four generals for abandoning the big northern city of Mosul a week ago and said they would face court martial.