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Saturday 20 September 2014

Maliki fans the flames with his threat to run for third time in Iraq

Ruth Sherlock

Published 05/07/2014 | 02:30

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An Iraqi mother rocks her twin babies to sleep in the back of a truck after she was turned back from the border in Khazair, Iraq. Photo: Getty Images
Iraqi security forces and volunteers carry their weapons during clashes with militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in the town of Dalli Abbas in Diyala province July 3, 2014. The al Qaeda splinter group leading the insurgency has declared a medieval-style Islamic caliphate erasing the borders of Iraq and Syria, and threatened to march on the Iraqi capital Baghdad to topple the Shi'ite-led central government.  Picture taken July 3, 2014.  REUTERS/Stringer (IRAQ - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS MILITARY)
Iraqi security forces and volunteers carry their weapons during clashes with militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in the town of Dalli Abbas in Diyala province. Reuters
Kurdish 'peshmerga' troops carry their weapons during an intensive security deployment after clashes with militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in Jalawla, Diyala province.  Reuters
Kurdish 'peshmerga' troops carry their weapons during an intensive security deployment after clashes with militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in Jalawla, Diyala province. Reuters

Iraq's embattled prime minister has vowed to fight until the Islamic militants - who have overrun much of the country - are defeated, suggesting he will stay despite pressure for him to quit.

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Framing the debate over his future in democratic terms, Nouri al-Maliki sought to remind Iraqis – including his political rivals – that voters handed his State of Law bloc the most seats in parliament in April elections, and that he must "stand by them during this crisis that Iraq is passing through". His bloc won the most seats but failed to gain a majority, meaning he needs allies in order to form a government.

The Sunni insurgent blitz that began early last month and swept across much of northern and western Iraq has been fuelled in part by grievances among the country's Sunni Muslim minority with Mr al-Maliki and his Shi'ite-led government.

Mr Al-Maliki, who has held the post since 2006, is being pressed to step aside, with even some of his former allies blaming his failure to promote reconciliation for fuelling Sunni support for the insurgency.

Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has even pressed lawmakers to quickly form a new government that can confront the militant threat and unite the country. Lawmakers failed in their first session of parliament on Tuesday to make any progress.

Failure

Yesterday, Mr al-Sistani lamented the inability of political leaders to quickly agree on a new prime minister, describing it as "a regrettable failure" and urging them to redouble their efforts to form a new government that can lift the country out of its crisis, a cleric who represents him told worshippers in a sermon in the holy city of Karbala.

But Mr Al-Maliki's statement suggested that he intended to fight any attempt to find a replacement for him.

"Pulling out of the battlefield while facing terrorist organisations that are against Islam and humanity would show weakness instead of carrying out my legitimate, national and moral responsibility," Mr Al-Maliki said.

Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that the British army drew up but was ordered to abandon plans to build, train and equip a 100,000-strong Syrian rebel army to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, according to disclosures that expose confusion at the heart of British defence and foreign policy.

Gen David Richards drew up the plans when he was chief of defence staff, the senior military adviser to the government.

He, along with John Sawers, the head of MI6, were sceptical of the government's preference for a direct but limited military involvement in the Syrian conflict, preferring to stay out altogether if possible.

Mr Richards thought that if intervention were undertaken it should be decisive but "hands off", leading to the development of the plan to arm a rebel force.

The plans were eventually considered by the National Security Council, but were rejected as too ambitious.

The plans for a British-trained rebel army were revealed by the BBC 'Newsnight' programme. There was no comment from the government or the Ministry of Defence. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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