Divisive Iraqi Prime Minister Mouri al-Maliki resigned late on Thursday night, opening the door for new leadership in Iraq as large areas of the besieged country have already fallen under the grip of radicalized Islamic State fighters who have disrupted the ordinary lives of hundred of thousands of Iraqi citizens and threatened to install a caliphate from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea.
Malaiki appeared before state television on Thursday and read his resignation letter, agreeing to not seek a third term after leading Iraq for eight years following the overthrow of Iraqi President Sadaam Hussein.
Maliki endorsed his key political rival Hadar al-Abadi to fill his premiership, even referring to him as his “brother” despite calling his appointment “unconstitutional” only a few days ago.
“I announce to you today that I am withdrawing my candidacy in deference to my brother, Haider al-Abadi, in the highest interest of the country,” Maliki said.
In recent weeks, pressure from international and religious leaders concerned about the recent surge in violence and power grabbing from Islamic State fighters, formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), helped to accelerate Maliki’s resignation.
Maliki struggled to develop an inclusive government in Baghdad that allowed Sunnis and Kurds to share power with his Shiite power base.
Accused of being overtly sectarian, Maliki aggravated tensions with Iraq’s Sunni populations concentrated in the western and northern regions of the country.
Over the past several months, Islamic State fighters vowed to overturn Maliki’s government and even received some support among moderate Sunnis and Baathists that coalesced around the common goal of ending Maliki’s eight year run as premier of Iraq.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised Maliki’s recent decision to resign on Thursday.
“We commend the important and honorable decision by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to support Prime Minister-designate Haider Al-Abadi in his efforts to form a new government and develop a national program in line with Iraq’s constitutional timeline. This milestone decision sets the stage for a historic and peaceful transition of power in Iraq” Kerry stated in a released statement.