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Maliki Says Fight Against ISIS Is Iraq’s Top Priority



BAGHDAD — The Iraqi prime minister, in an apparent rebuff to his international critics, said on Wednesday that finding a political settlement to the differences between the country’s factions was not as important or urgent as fighting extremist Sunni insurgents.

But in a conciliatory gesture, the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, also offered amnesty to anyone who fought with or supported the insurgents.

In a speech broadcast on Iraqiya, the state television network, Mr. Maliki also acknowledged the embarrassment a day earlier surrounding the efforts to form a new government, which collapsed after the new Parliament adjourned within half an hour of convening.

“It was good to see people united and showing up, despite the weaknesses we saw and did not hope to see,” he said. After Kurdish and Shiite legislators exchanged insults, the session adjourned for a week. “We hope next session we will overcome this by cooperating together and being realistic,” he said.

International supporters of Iraq, including the United States, have criticised Mr. Maliki for failing to form an inclusive government that brings Sunnis and Kurds onto its side in the fight against the extremists. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and a range of Sunni-based allies enjoy wide support in many Sunni areas, and Kurdish leaders have taken advantage of the Iraqi Army’s disarray to consolidate their control over the autonomous Kurdistan region, including the disputed city of Kirkuk.

“Politicians in Iraq need to realize that it is no longer business as usual,” the top United Nations representative here, Nickolay Mladenov, said on Tuesday, criticizing the political impasse. And American officials have said that major military support for Iraq would be dependent on a new, inclusive government being formed.

However, Mr. Maliki appeared to reject that reasoning. “The battle today is the security battle for the unity of Iraq,” he said. “I don’t believe there is anything more important than mobilizing people to support the security situation. Other things are important, but this is the priority.”

He said the political process would not be able to proceed without a strong military. “We will move on in the political process,’’ he said, “but we have to focus on the battle, which is on behalf of the people.”

Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish politicians have refused to accept Mr. Maliki as a candidate for a third term, and the majority Shiite coalition was maneuvering to determine his replacement. Both the powerful marja, or council of Shiite ayatollahs, and the American government have shown little enthusiasm for Mr. Maliki to remain in power, although his own party won the most votes in the April 30 elections.

“The Americans are putting the cart before the horse,” said Haider al-Abadi, a prominent member of Mr. Maliki’s State of Law party. “Things on the ground are much more important. Solving them will help solve the political problem for us, this is life or death.” [eap_ad_1] Mr. Maliki also said the United States government had said it would be happy to work with him if he remains in power.

“President Obama was upset about leaks that his administration was not happy with Mr. Maliki, that’s the message we’re getting from the Americans,” Mr. Abadi said.

Mr. Maliki’s critics said his speech was another indication of why he needed to be replaced.

“The political process has to be first, and above all other issues because it is the only way to find a solution to all our problems and defuse the whole crisis,” said Talal al-Zubaie, a Sunni member of Parliament from Anbar Province. “This is one of the prime minister’s attempts to consolidate his power and extend his stay in office.”

Mr. Maliki’s announcement of an amnesty, while broad-based, was directed particularly at Sunni tribal leaders. Their support against Qaeda militants in 2008 was decisive in defeating them.

“I’m announcing an amnesty to all tribes and all people involved in this, there are no exceptions, for everyone,” he said. “I’m welcoming them to join other tribes to fight ISIS, this is in their interests, the interests of their tribes and their sons.” However, he said those who had blood on their hands would have to first be forgiven by the families of their victims. (New York Times)

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