Baghdad • Iran endorsed Iraq’s new prime minister-designate on Tuesday, striking a death blow for incumbent Nouri al-Maliki as a wide spectrum of domestic factions — and even his most loyal militia — also turned their backs on the longtime leader.
Maliki’s growing isolation raised hopes of a relatively smooth transfer of power after a tense two-day standoff during which the desperate incumbent deployed security forces to strategic points across the capital.
The Iranian leadership, which wields significant influence in Iraqi politics, joined a range of Iraqi political groups — including Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites — in backing Shiite politician Haider al-Abadi’s efforts to form a new government.
The United States and many Iraqis see the creation of a new, more inclusive government as crucial in peeling away support for the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State. Maliki, a Shiite, had marginalized the country’s Sunni minority, pushing some to support the fighters. He warned that Abadi’s nomination as prime minister-designate, which he argues is a constitutional breach, could "open up the gates of hell."
The Islamic State militants have seized large chunks of territory in recent weeks to form a renegade nation stretching across the Iraqi border into Syria. The sweeping offensive has forced tens of thousands of Iraqis — many who are members of the Yazidi religious minority — to flee for their lives.
On Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that an additional 130 U.S. troops had arrived in Iraq to help plan for a likely expansion of humanitarian relief operations in the north. Although Hagel did not give details, he signaled that the Pentagon was laying the groundwork for a more ambitious rescue mission. Speaking to Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, Hagel said the extra troops would "take a closer look and give a more in-depth assessment" of the U.S. relief efforts that began last week. The new deployment comes in addition to 775 troops authorized to go to Iraq to protect U.S. diplomatic facilities and work with Iraqi forces.
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