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POLITICS: PennAve

Iraq's Nouri al-Maliki tightens grip on power for now

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Politics,White House,John Kerry,Iraq,National Security,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,State Department,Middle East

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki struck a defiant tone about his hold on power even as he called for political unity in the face of a virulent al Qaeda inspired insurgency that is threatening to tear the country apart.

Calls for new leadership, what he described as a “national emergency government,” amount to a “coup against the constitution and the political process,” he said in a address covered on Iraqi state television, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

At the same time, Maliki urged all political parties to set aside their differences before the first session of Iraq's newly elected parliament, set to begin July 1.

“We desperately need a united national stance to defy terrorism,” he said.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, is under pressure from the United States and other countries in the region who want a stable Iraq to reach out to Sunnis and Kurds and reform the government to make it more inclusive.

President Obama in a major address last week said it's imperative for al-Maliki to reach out to the Sunni minority after years of trying to limit their influence in the government and military. Support from the Sunni community has helped the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in their swift campaign to seize control of large swaths of northern Iraq.

U.S. officials have said it's not America's place to determine Iraq's political leadership but privately say al-Maliki days should be numbered if he does not overhaul his government in significant ways.

Secretary of State John Kerry met with al-Maliki on Tuesday and walked away saying the Iraqi leaders was supportive of a the process to form a new government. But Kerry's public comments didn't address the pointed question of whether al-Maliki's would remain prime minister.

Kerry will meet Thursday with foreign ministers in Saudi Arabia and other regional governments to focus on urging al-Maliki to form a more inclusive government.

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