Maliki spurned as Iraq president nominates new PM

BAGHDAD - Iraq moved closer to ending Nuri al-Maliki's stubborn grip on power when his own political clan spurned him for another prime minister called to save the country from breakup.

The much-awaited breakthrough in Baghdad came as Kurdish troops backed by United States warplanes battled to turn the tide on two months of jihadist expansion in the north.

"The country is in your hands," President Fuad Masum told Haidar al-Abadi on Monday after accepting his nomination by parliament's Shiite bloc, in a move immediately welcomed by the United States.

Abadi, long considered a close Maliki ally, has 30 days to form a government, amid hopes that a broad-based cabinet could serve as a foundation for healing Iraq's deep sectarian divides.

US President Barack Obama welcomed Abadi's nomination, and Washington as a whole made no secret of its desire to see Maliki step aside and usher in a new era. Maliki, however, appeared determined to resist replacement.

Surrounded by 30-odd loyalists from his Shiite bloc, he gave a speech denouncing Abadi's nomination as a violation of the constitution. Maliki, who worked hand in glove with the United States when it occupied Iraq, accused Washington of now working to undermine him.

But, even if he could still complicate the handover of power, he looked more isolated than ever, despite deploying special forces and armoured vehicles across strategic locations in Baghdad.

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Aaj Kal