Iraq’s Sistani pulls support from al-Abadi, al-Maliki

BAGHDAD (AA) – Prominent Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani does not support either current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi or former PM Nouri al-Maliki to lead Iraq’s next government, according to a Monday statement carried by a website known to be close to al-Sistani.

According to the Iraqi constitution, the largest bloc in parliament has the right to select the next prime minister.

“Most of the public no longer believes that these individuals can improve the country’s situation and successfully wage the fight against corruption,” the statement read.

"A new personality — someone competent, fair and courageous — must be chosen instead,” it added.

Al-Sistani enjoys the respect of a large segment of the population, especially in Iraq’s Shia-majority central and southern provinces.

Formation of a new government has been stalled since May, when Iraq held a hard-fought parliamentary poll, the results of which were later subject to a recount.

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Former PM al-Maliki says won’t run for Iraq premiership

By Arif Yusuf

BAGHDAD (AA) – Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki announced on Sunday that he does not plan to run for the post of prime minister.

Al-Maliki, who leads the State of Law coalition, was elected a prime minister in 2006 and served for another term between 2010 and 2014.

“When I announced years ago that I will not run for prime minister I was serious based on a vision that I am still committed to… and now I confirm my decision for the same reasons and vision,” al-Maliki said in a statement.

The former premier said he would support the upcoming prime minister to carry out reforms and accomplish his national tasks.

The remarks came a day before the new parliament convenes for its first session.

Last month, Iraq's electoral commission announced that a manual recount of the May 12 parliamentary elections were more or less the same as the initial electronic vote count.

The vote results were approved by the Iraqi Federal Court.

According to the results, Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Sairoon Coalition won 54 parliamentary seats, followed by a Hashd al-Shaabi-led coalition (47 seats) and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's Victory Bloc (42 seats).

Within 30 days of the first parliament session, the assembly will elect — by a two-thirds majority — the country’s next president.

The president will then task the largest bloc in parliament with drawing up a government, which must be referred back to parliament for approval.

Iran demonstrations ‘internal affair’: Iraqi VP

By Ali Jawad

BAGHDAD (AA) – Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki has described protests currently underway in next-door Iran as an “internal issue”, going on to blame the demonstrations — which have included acts of violence — on “Iran’s enemies”.

“What is going on [in Iran] is an internal issue,” al-Maliki told reporters on Wednesday. “Iran’s enemies are attempting to sow riot and confusion.”

He went on to call for calm in Iran, urging Tehran to take “appropriate measures in the interest of the Iranian people."

The Iraqi vice-president also condemned "any foreign interference in the internal affairs of Iran or of any other country."

Last Thursday, Iranians took to the streets in the northeastern cities of Mashhad and Kashmar to protest rising inflation and perceived government mismanagement, according to local media reports.

These protests were followed on Saturday and Wednesday by large demonstrations in support of the government.

Since the demonstrations erupted six days ago, at least 23 people have been killed — including a police officer — while hundreds more have reportedly been detained.

Iraqi VP slams French leader's Hashd al-Shaabi remarks

By Haydar Hadi

BAGHDAD (AA) – Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki has slammed recent statements by French President Emmanuel Macron in which he called for the "dissolution” of Iraq’s Shia Hashd al-Shaabi fighting force.

Al-Maliki's office late Sunday issued a statement asserting: "France’s constitution calls for non-interference in other countries' internal affairs. We are baffled by the French president's calls for dissolving the Hashd al-Shaabi, which is a legal and official institution in Iraq."

It added: "We strongly reject this as interference in our domestic affairs."

"We reject the imposition of any other state’s will on the Iraqi government and people," the statement stressed.

Humam Hammudi, vice-president of the Iraqi parliament, likewise criticized Macron’s statements.

"We expect the international community, especially France, to show respect for the noble warriors [i.e., the Hashd al-Shaabi], many of whom have perished in Iraq for the sake of world peace," Hammudi said a Monday statement.

"The Daesh terrorist group would have stabbed France in the heart if it hadn't been for the Hashd al-Shaabi," he added.

On Saturday, Macron met with northern Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani.

During the meeting, Macron called for the gradual demilitarization of the region, pointing in particular to the Hashd al-Shaabi, which was formally incorporated into the Iraqi armed forces last year.

Macron later spoke to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi by phone to convey Paris' support for Iraq’'s sovereignty and security, according to a statement issued by al-Abadi's press office.

*Ali Murat Alhas contributed to this report from Ankara.

Iraqi VP slams French leader’s Hashd al-Shaabi remarks

By Haydar Hadi

BAGHDAD (AA) – Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki has slammed recent statements by French President Emmanuel Macron in which he called for the "dissolution” of Iraq’s Shia Hashd al-Shaabi fighting force.

Al-Maliki's office late Sunday issued a statement asserting: "France’s constitution calls for non-interference in other countries' internal affairs. We are baffled by the French president's calls for dissolving the Hashd al-Shaabi, which is a legal and official institution in Iraq."

It added: "We strongly reject this as interference in our domestic affairs."

"We reject the imposition of any other state’s will on the Iraqi government and people," the statement stressed.

Humam Hammudi, vice-president of the Iraqi parliament, likewise criticized Macron’s statements.

"We expect the international community, especially France, to show respect for the noble warriors [i.e., the Hashd al-Shaabi], many of whom have perished in Iraq for the sake of world peace," Hammudi said a Monday statement.

"The Daesh terrorist group would have stabbed France in the heart if it hadn't been for the Hashd al-Shaabi," he added.

On Saturday, Macron met with northern Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani.

During the meeting, Macron called for the gradual demilitarization of the region, pointing in particular to the Hashd al-Shaabi, which was formally incorporated into the Iraqi armed forces last year.

Macron later spoke to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi by phone to convey Paris' support for Iraq’'s sovereignty and security, according to a statement issued by al-Abadi's press office.

*Ali Murat Alhas contributed to this report from Ankara.

Shia militia may enter Syria if needed: Iraqi VP

By Mustafa Melih Ahishali

TEHRAN, Iran (AA) – Iraq’s Vice President Nouri Al-Maliki said Monday the Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militia could enter Syria to fight for “Syrian brothers” if needed.

His statement came amid increased concerns over the armed Shia group to fuel sectarian clashes in northern Iraq, especially the Turkmen-populated city of Tal Afar and the Sunni-populated Mosul.

“If we can be successful against Daesh and liberate our soil, we can go into Syria if our brothers there need help against Daesh,” Malik told a press meeting in Iran’s capital Tehran.

An umbrella group of pro-government Shia militias, the Hashd al-Shaabi was established in 2014 with the express purpose of fighting the Daesh terrorist group.

The Hashd al-Shaabi has been accused in the past of committing violations against civilians in Sunni-majority areas that it has captured from Daesh — allegations that it has denied.

Hashd Al-Shabi officials also repeated similar statement vowing to fight for Assad regime in Syria after Iraq.

In November 2016, Iraq’s parliament endorsed a proposal to formally incorporate the Hashd al-Shaabi into the Iraqi armed forces.

There is no official data regarding the size of the Hashd al-Shaabi, but some sources say it can field as many as 300,000 fighters.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi called in a previous statement, urging all armed groups under Shaabi militia to obey Baghdad’s policy not to interfere other countries’ internal affairs.

“Hashd al-Shaabi should respect neighboring countries. Fighting outside Iraq will not ease our burden. We don’t want to take part in a regional clashes,” he said.

INFOGRAPHIC – Baghdad drags feet retaking Mosul

By Enes Kanli

BEIRUT (AA) – The Iraqi government’s stated intention to retake Mosul from the Daesh terrorist group — which captured the oil-rich city in mid-2014 — has yet to materialize, despite repeated promises by Baghdad to do so before year’s end.

Daesh, meanwhile, appears to have benefitted from the resentment felt by many of the country’s Sunni-Muslims as a result of sectarian-based policies espoused by the government.

Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia politician who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2014, put sectarian considerations at the heart of his policies — especially after the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011.

Scores of people were killed in Iraq’s western Anbar province in 2012 after Sunni demonstrations erupted to protest perceived anti-Sunni discrimination by the al-Maliki government.

Since then, Daesh has reportedly won supporters among some of the country’s Sunni population.

– Prison breaks

At least 815 inmates, many linked to Al-Qaeda, escape from jail after militants raid Abu Gharaib and Taji prisons.

– Fall of Mosul

In June of 2014, Iraqi army leaves Mosul to Daesh, allowing terrorist group to seize heavy weapons and combat vehicles.

– Shia militias

Shortly afterward, government establishes Hashd al-Shaabi, an umbrella group of Iran-backed Shia militias, which has since been accused of committing abuses against Sunnis.