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August 11, 2014

Obama Welcomes Iraqi PM Nomination, Pledges Support

by Aru Pande

President Barack Obama is calling the nomination of a new Iraqi prime minister a promising step forward. Obama took time out of his vacation at Martha's Vineyard on Monday to express support for the prime minister-designate and urged him to quickly form an inclusive government to counter the threat posed by the Sunni militant group Islamic State, also known as ISIL.

Ever since Islamic State militants began their bloody campaign in Iraq, the United States has called on the country’s leaders to put aside their sectarian differences and form a new government that would unite Iraqis against the threat.

On Monday, Iraqi President Fouad Massoum nominated Deputy Parliament Speaker Haider al-Abadi as new prime minister and gave him 30 days to a form a new government, potentially ending the divisive eight-year rule of current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Although both men are members of the Shi’ite Dawa Party, Maliki’s supporters remained defiant, saying they would fight the decision.

The veteran Iraqi leader has vowed to sue the president for failing to nominate him for a third term.

While not directly addressing Maliki, Obama on Monday urged all Iraqi political leaders to work peacefully through the political process in the days ahead. Obama said he spoke with the prime minister-designate and pledged U.S. support for a government he says will address the grievances of all Iraqi people.

"Just as the United States will remain vigilant against the threat posed to our people by ISIL, we stand ready to partner with Iraq in its fight against these terrorist forces. Without question, that effort will be advanced if Iraqis continue to build on today's progress and come together to support a new and inclusive government," said Obama.

Although Maliki is resisting calls to step down, the lack of support from even those among his party shows that most Iraqis understand what's at stake, said Middle East expert David Pollock.

“The situation suggests a transition to a new leadership that will probably be more unifying for Iraq, but even after that, they are in very, very dire straits - very, very tough position because of the threat from Daish, ISIS or the Islamic State,” said Pollock.

Pentagon officials said Monday that since August 7, the U.S. military has carried out 15 targeted airstrikes against Islamic State while dropping 310 bundles of food, water and medical supplies to thousands of members of the Yazidi minority trapped by militants in Iraq’s northern Sinjar Mountains.

U.S. Army Lieutenant General William Mayville told reporters in Washington that airstrikes have provided time for Kurdish forces to fortify their defenses, allowing them to hold territory near Irbil and retake towns from Islamic State, or ISIL, militants.

“We assess that U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq have slowed ISIL’s operational tempo and temporarily disrupted their advances toward the province of Irbil.  However, these strikes are unlikely to affect ISIL’s overall capabilities or its operations in other areas of Iraq and Syria,” said Mayville.

Still, analyst Pollock said, U.S. involvement both militarily and providing humanitarian aid may tip the balance against Sunni militants.

“This will be a continuous effort to maybe not defeat, but at least to contain the threat from ISIS in Iraq, and we can do that,” said Pollock.

Pentagon officials said Monday there are no current plans to expand the air campaign beyond protecting U.S. interests in Iraq.