Iraq's president has asked the parliament's deputy speaker to form a new government, after members of the Shiite coalition that had backed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki nominated the deputy, Haider al-Abadi, to the post Monday.
The move adds more uncertainty to a country beset by extremist militants in the north and sectarian divisions elsewhere. Maliki, who wants to serve a third term, has said he won't step down. In the U.S., officials say it's time for a leader to govern Iraq by consensus.
Update at 12:55 p.m. ET: Biden Congratulates Abadi
The White House has issued this description of a call made today:
"Vice President Joe Biden called Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi to congratulate him on his nomination to form a new government and develop a national program pursuant to Iraq's constitutional process. The Prime Minister-designate expressed his intent to move expeditiously to form a broad-based, inclusive government capable of countering the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and building a better future for Iraqis from all communities. The Vice President relayed President Obama's congratulations and restated his commitment to fully support a new and inclusive Iraqi government, particularly in its fight against ISIL. The two leaders also discussed practical steps towards fully activating the bilateral Strategic Framework Agreement in all of its fields, including economic, diplomatic, and security cooperation. Prime Minister-designate Abadi thanked Vice President Biden for the call, and they agreed to stay in regular communication as the government formation process proceeds."
Our original post continues:
Earlier Monday, Maliki filed a complaint against President Fuad Masum, accusing him of not asking Maliki to form a government by Sunday's constitutional deadline. A court ruled in Maliki's favor today — but Masum, who is Kurdish, then asked the parliament's deputy speaker, al-Abadi, to form a government, after Abadi was nominated by other Shiite politicians to replace Maliki.
Abadi has the support of Iraq's National Shiite Alliance — a group that would normally include Maliki's State of Law party, the AP reports. But Maliki is insisting that his party should decide who leads the country.
"Troops loyal to Maliki redeployed overnight throughout Baghdad," Alison Meuse reports for NPR's Newscast unit. "An eyewitness says there are now tanks near the president's residence. Maliki has assumed control of most branches of the armed forces during eight years in power."
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports:
"A State Department spokesperson says the U.S. is closely watching the political situation in Iraq – and supports the country's president, Fuad Masum, as the guarantor of the Iraqi constitution.
"Prime Minister Malaki accuses Masoum of violating the constitution and is vowing to seek another term despite pressure from Kurds, Sunnis and some fellow Shi'a to step aside. The U.S. and many others accuse Maliki of pursing a sectarian agenda that has alienated Sunnis and emboldened the extremist group the Islamic State.
"In her statement, U.S. spokesperson Marie Harf says the U.S. would support a new and inclusive government. She calls that the best way to unify the country against the Islamic State."
The fight against the Islamic State has included U.S. airstrikes that continued over the weekend, giving new momentum to Kurdish fighters who say they've taken two cities back from the Sunni extremists.
Today, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said the airstrikes in northern Iraq have been "very effective." Currently on a visit to Australia, Hagel told reporters that the Islamic State is "a threat to the civilized world, to, certainly to the United States, to our interests — it is to Europe, it is to Australia."
The U.S. has also airdropped humanitarian aid to thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who were trapped in a mountain range after fleeing the Islamic State's advance. The U.S. says it has conducted at least four airdrops of more than 74,000 meals and 15,000 gallons of drinking water.