Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iraq’s outgoing Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki said on Wednesday he was prepared to form a new government from among Iraq’s Shi’ite parties if ongoing talks on the shape of the new government fail.
Speaking in his weekly national address, Maliki claimed that the Shi’ite-led National Alliance—which includes his State of Law coalition, parties loyal to firebrand cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI)—had a “Plan B” in place if Prime Minister-designate Haider Al-Abadi was unable to make progress in talks on forming a government with Sunni and Kurdish factions.
Although Maliki’s coalition won the largest number of seats in April’s parliamentary election, he fell short of an overall majority in Iraq’s parliament, and was unsuccessful in his attempts to put together an alliance capable of giving him a third term as premier.
Maliki’s speech was criticized by Kurdish leaders and other members of the National Alliance, who denied the existence of a “Plan B.”
Jawad Al-Juburi, the official spokesman of the Sadrist Al-Ahrar bloc in Iraq’s parliament, said Iraq needed a new government that cut across ethnic and sectarian lines.
He said: “Talking about a Plan B is like ignoring the national consensus which was welcomed internally and abroad, and we see real partnership as the only guarantee for national unity.”
“Everyone knows that the idea of a political majority [in parliament] was part of Maliki’s election program, but it did not receive support from anyone, and the most prominent parties who openly rejected it were the religious authorities and the political blocs,” he added.
Meanwhile, Kurdistan Alliance MP Abdulaziz Hussein told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Preliminary talks which our delegation held with the National Alliance and Abadi were positive.”
He added: “The Kurdistan Alliance presented faultless constitutional demands and we await the response of the National Alliance, because we expect within the next 24 hours the emergence of the government program according to which we will decide the nature of our participation, and provide the names of our candidates for ministerial positions.”
Maliki’s comments also came as the head of US military forces in much of the Middle East, Gen. Lloyd Austin of Central Command (CENTCOM), arrived in Baghdad for his second visit to the Iraqi capital in the space of a month.
According to a statement issued by the Iraqi government, Abadi and Gen. Austin discussed “security cooperation between Iraq and the United States according to the strategic agreement signed by the two countries,” and the importance of providing Iraq with international support to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Gen. Austin expressed “the United States’ readiness to help Iraq in the security field and in training Iraqi forces.” He added that “there is a noticeable improvement in the Iraqi forces’ performance and their ability to launch successful attacks on ISIS positions.”