June 19, 2014, 12:31 a.m. EDT
U.S. signals Iraq’s prime minister should go
By Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is signaling that it wants a new government in Iraq without Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, convinced the Shiite leader is unable to reconcile with the nation’s Sunni minority and stabilize a volatile political landscape.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
The U.S. administration is indicating it wants Iraq’s political parties to form a new government without Mr. Maliki as he tries to assemble a ruling coalition following elections this past April, U.S. officials say.
Such a new government, U.S., officials say, would include the country’s Sunni and Kurdish communities and could help to stem Sunni support for the al Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, that has seized control of Iraqi cities over the past two weeks. That, the officials argue, would help to unify the country and reverse its slide into sectarian division.
On Wednesday, Iraq stepped up efforts on several fronts to blunt the insurgency’s progress, deploying counterterrorism units and helicopter gunships to battle them for control of the country’s main oil refinery, in Beiji.
A growing number of U.S. lawmakers and Arab allies, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are pressing the White House to pull its support for Mr. Maliki. Some of them are pushing for change in exchange for providing their help in stabilizing Iraq, say U.S. and Arab diplomats.
Iraq oil refinery targeted in latest ISIS attack
Kurdish fighters attack ISIS in Jalula, and the militant group takes partial control of an oil refinery in Baiji. Iranian President Hasan Rouhani says Iran will "spare no effort" in protecting Shiite sites in Iraq.
The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) told a congressional hearing Wednesday: “The Maliki government, candidly, has got to go if you want any reconciliation.”
Senior administration officials have become increasingly critical of Mr. Maliki in their public statements and question whether he is committed to mending ties with Sunnis.
“There’s no question that not enough has been done by the government, including the prime minister, to govern inclusively, and that that has contributed to the situation and the crisis that we have today in Iraq,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.
“The Iraqi people will have to decide the makeup of the next coalition government and who is the prime minister,” he added. “Whether it’s the current prime minister or another leader, we will aggressively attempt to impress upon that leader the absolute necessity of rejecting sectarian governance.”
The Obama administration has for years warned Mr. Maliki’s Shiite-dominant government to be more inclusive and less punitive against the minority Sunnis at the risk of further alienating them.
Mr. Maliki has largely ignored that advice over the past five years, U.S. and Arab officials say, jailing popular Sunni protest leaders, blocking even other Shiite blocs from sharing power and taking most key cabinet positions in government for himself.
Michael R. Crittenden, Jeffrey Sparshott, Ellen Knickmeyer and Dion Nissenbaum contributed to this article.