BAGHDAD: Pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to step aside had become unbearable.
Sunnis,Kurds, fellow Shi’ites, regional power broker Iran and the United States all wanted him out.
Maliki calculated he may have one more chance to hold onto power after eight years in office, even though alarmed allies had run out of patience as Islamic State jihadis swept government forces aside in much of western and northern Iraq.
Maliki’s plan would require persuading Iraq’s most influential cleric that he alone could reform and unite a country that had slid back into a civil war fueled by what critics view as his sectarian politics.
A week ago, he sent a delegation from his Islamic Dawa Party to try to meet Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the sacred Shi’ite city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, according to an Iraqi minister and a source close to the clergy.
It was unclear if they succeeded in gaining an audience with the reclusive 83-year-old cleric, but they did get a response on paper, if not the one that Maliki was hoping for:
“Sistani made it clear that he wanted change. He put it in writing – the first time that a leader of Iraq’s Shi’ite clergy did such a thing,” the minister told Reuters.
Sistani’s word is law in majority Shi’ite Muslim Iraq so the fate of Maliki – an unknown when he first came to power in 2006 with help from Iraq’s then U.S. occupiers – was sealed.
Maliki has been caretaker prime minister since an inconclusive parliamentary election in April. But his chances of a third term appear over, with a party colleague named as prime minister-designate and drawing endorsements from home and abroad.