Iraq’s premier is insisting he will “never give up” seeking a third term despite allegations at home and abroad of sectarianism and authoritarianism amid a sweeping jihadist-led offensive.
At least 15 people were killed in a suicide attack on Iraqi forces south of Samarra, a mostly Sunni city that also houses one of the Shiite Islam’s holiest shrines and is a main front line in the weeks-old crisis.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s remarks came after a farcical parliament session in which Iraq’s various factions – many of which strongly oppose him staying – failed to unite and choose a speaker, sparking international criticism and from the country’s top Shiite religious leader.
But in a rare piece of good news in the weeks since the jihadist-led militant offensive began, 46 Indian nurses caught up in the conflict were freed and headed home.
With parliament next due to meet on Tuesday and Maliki facing widespread criticism over the onslaught that has overrun swathes of five provinces, he insisted he would fight to retain his job.
“I will never give up on my candidacy for the post of prime minister,” Maliki said in a statement.
He said that because his bloc won the most seats in April 30 elections, it retained the right to nominate the premier, and insisted rival groups had “no right” to impose conditions on the final selection.
Earlier Osama al-Nujaifi, the speaker in the previous parliament, announced he would not seek a new tenure, in a move seen as removing a key obstacle to Maliki’s ouster despite the two men being rivals.
Deputies need to choose a speaker and then elect a president before they can move on to forming a government, and the key question of a possible Maliki third term.
Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on Friday criticised the failure to pick a speaker, with his spokesman calling it a “regrettable failure”.
Maliki’s remarks highlighted the disunity between Iraq’s major political blocs, which have been urged to come together and quickly form a government to help repel militant groups led by the Islamic State jihadist group.