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An Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter takes position on the front line in Bashiqa, a town 13 kms northeast of Mosul

BAGHDAD, Aug 12, (Agencies): Iraq’s premier designate was gaining widespread support from countries hoping political reconciliation will undercut jihadists, as Iran Tuesday further dashed Nuri al-Maliki’s hopes of clinging to power. Washington urged Maliki’s successor, Haidar al-Abadi, to rapidly form a broad-based government able to unite Iraqis in the fight against jihadist-led militants who have overrun swathes of the country. The United States, and other countries, said they were working to deliver much-needed arms to the Kurds, who are fighting the Islamic State (IS) on several fronts. Abadi came from behind in a protracted and acrimonious race to become Iraq’s new premier when President Fuad Masum Monday accepted his nomination and tasked him with forming a government. He has 30 days to build a team which will face the daunting task of defusing sectarian tensions and, in the words of US President Barack Obama, convincing the Sunni Arab minority that IS “is not the only game in town”. “We are urging him to form a new cabinet as swiftly as possible and the US stands ready to support a new and inclusive Iraqi government and particularly its fight against ISIL (IS),” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Sydney Tuesday. He also reiterated Washington’s stance that US air strikes launched last week were not a prelude to the reintroduction of American combat forces.

In a further blow for Maliki, Iran on Tuesday ended its long-time support for him and swung its allegiance behind Abadi in a congratulatory message. “We congratulate Haidar al-Abadi on his nomination as prime minister, for him personally and for religious dignitaries, the Iraqi population and its political groups,” Ali Shamkhani, secretary and representative of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said in Tehran. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal on Tuesday welcomed the nomination of Haidar al- Abadi as the new prime minister of Iraq to replace divisive incumbent al-Maliki as “good news”. Sunni Saudi Arabia had strained ties with Shiite Maliki, whom it accused of creating conditions for a jihadist-led offensive by marginalising Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority. “This is the good news I heard lately,” the veteran diplomat said during a news conference in the western Saudi city of Jeddah, when asked to comment on Abadi’s nomination. King Abdullah sent messages of congratulations to Abadi and to Iraqi President Fuad Masum, official SPA news agency reported. “I wish to congratulate you on your nomination to the post of prime minister and I pray to God for your success and for him to help you re-establish cohesion among Iraq’s people and preserve the unity and stability of Iraq,” the king said in his message to Abadi. He said he wants to see Iraq, under the new prime minister, “regain its rightful place in the Arab world and the Muslim world”. In his message to Masum, King Abdullah congratulated him on his election to the presidency and for choosing Abadi to be prime minister.

Oil kingpin Saudi Arabia shares more than 800 kms (500 miles) of border with Iraq and has been alarmed by the jihadist offensive led by Sunni militants who have captured large swathes of its neighbour. In June, Prince Saud warned of the risks of civil war in Iraq with unpredictable consequences for the region and blamed Maliki’s “sectarian policies” for the increased violence there. Maliki in turn accused Saudi Arabia of supporting “terrorism” in his Shiite majority country. The political transition comes at a time of crisis for Iraq. After seizing the main northern city of Mosul in early June and sweeping through much of the Sunni heartland, jihadist militants bristling with US-made military equipment they captured from retreating Iraqi troops launched another onslaught this month. They attacked Christian, Yazidi, Turkmen and Shabak minorities west, north and east of Mosul, sparking a mass exodus that took the number of people displaced in Iraq this year soaring past the million mark. A week of devastating gains saw the jihadists take the country’s largest dam and advance to within striking distance of the autonomous Kurdish region.

They also attacked the large town of Sinjar, forcing thousands of mainly Yazidi civilians to run up a mountain and hide there with little food and water. US strikes and cross-border Kurdish cooperation yielded early results on several fronts, with thousands of Yazidis managing to escape their mountain death trap and Kurdish troops beginning to claw back lost ground. It is unknown how many remain on the mountain however and UN monitors called for urgent action to save the community. “All possible measures must be taken urgently to avoid a mass atrocity and potential genocide within days or hours,” said UN minority rights expert Rita Izsak.

The United States has been leading an increasingly international effort to deliver humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands who have poured into Kurdistan over the past week alone. US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said it was the Iraqi government that had requested US assistance in providing the peshmerga with more arms. “We are ... helping get that equipment to Arbil,” he said. Obama had made it clear he thought no effective and coordinated anti-jihadist counter-offensive could take place while Maliki was still in charge. The Shiite leader appears determined to pull every stop to stay in power for a third term. Zaid al-Ali, an Iraqi lawyer and the author of The Struggle for Iraq’s Future, said Maliki had some reasons to worry about his future if he relinquishes power. “There’s been so much blood, so much suffering over the past few years, he’s going to be a marked man,” he said. Surrounded by 30-odd loyalists from his Shiite bloc, Maliki gave a speech denouncing Abadi’s nomination as a violation of the constitution and accused the US of working to undermine him. But, even if he could still complicate the handover of power, he looked more isolated than ever. Maliki on Tuesday ordered the armed forces to “stay away from the political crisis”, assuaging fears that he could seek to leverage his military power to stay in power. While Maliki’s Shiite militias and Iraq’s armed forces have tried to battle IS fighters, the outgoing premier is seen by many as partly to blame for the crisis for having alienated the Sunni minority.

Monitors UN rights monitors called Tuesday for the global community to take urgent action to avoid a potential genocide against the Yazidi community in Iraq. Thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority are trapped on a mountain in northwestern Iraq with little food or water after Islamic State jihadists overran the region. “All possible measures must be taken urgently to avoid a mass atrocity and potential genocide within days or hours,” said UN minority rights expert Rita Izsak. “Civilians need to be protected on the ground and escorted out of situations of extreme peril,” Izsak said in a joint statement with fellow monitors, urging action by the Iraqi government and international community. Thousands of Yazidi refugees are stranded on Mount Sinjar, besieged by Sunni extremists from the Islamic State who control much of northern Iraq and eastern Syria. “We are witnessing a tragedy of huge proportions unfolding, in which thousands of people are at immediate risk of death by violence or by hunger and thirst,” said Chaloka Beyani, UN monitor on refugee rights. “Humanitarian aid must be delivered quickly and no efforts should be spared to protect all groups forcefully displaced by this conflict.” UN refugee agency spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters there were 20,000- 30,000 people on Sinjar Mountain. World Health Organization spokesman Paul Garwood said two medical teams had reached the mountain, while supplies had been sent in by helicopter. The United States and France have also dropped aid supplies.

Edwards said some 35,000 people had managed to flee the mountain, head into Syria and then reach Iraqi Kurdistan. “The new arrivals are exhausted, dehydrated and many have suffered sun or heat stroke, with the daily temperatures reaching 40 to 45 degrees Celsius (101 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit),” he said. Kurdistan’s Dohuk governorate has taken in hundreds of thousands of people driven from their homes by the offensive, including Yazidis, Christians, Shabak, Kakai, Armenian and Turkmen minorities, Edwards said. The UN is rushing in supplies, he said, applauding locals for helping the refugees. Egypt’s top religious authority condemned the armed group Islamic State which has taken over parts of Iraq and Syria, describing it on Tuesday as a corrupt, extremist organisation that is damaging Islam. “An extremist and bloody group such as this poses a danger to Islam and Muslims, tarnishing its image as well as shedding blood and spreading corruption,” said Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam, Egypt’s most influential Muslim cleric, the state news agency MENA reported. The comments came as the Vatican called on Muslim religious leaders to take a “clear and courageous stance” and condemn “unspeakable criminal acts” by Islamic State. The grand mufti’s view represents the opinion of Al Azhar, one of the world’s oldest seats of Muslim learning, which influences the opinions of Muslims worldwide.

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