BAGHDAD — With the country in turmoil, rivals of Iraq's Shiite prime minister are mounting a campaign to force him out of office, with some angling for support from Western backers and regional heavyweights.
On Thursday, their effort received a massive boost from President Barack Obama.
He stopped short of calling for Nouri al-Maliki to resign, saying "it's not our job to choose Iraq's leaders." But his carefully worded comments did all but that.
Maliki's moves last year to crush protests by Sunnis complaining of discrimination under his Shiite-led government sparked a new wave of violence by militants, who took over the city of Fallujah in the western, Sunni-dominated province of Anbar and parts of the provincial capital Ramadi. Iraqi army and police forces battling them for months have been unable to take most areas back.
Many Iraqis complain of government corruption, failure to rebuild the economy and too-close ties with mostly Shiite Iran, a non-Arab nation that Sunni Arab states, including powerhouse Saudi Arabia, see as a threat to regional stability.
Two possible replacements are former vice president Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a French-educated economist and a Shiite, and Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who served as Iraq's first prime minister after Saddam Hussein's ouster, the Associated Press reported, citing Shiite politicians familiar with efforts to remove Maliki.
Mahdi belongs to a moderate Shiite party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which has close links with Iran.
Also lobbying for the job is Ahmad Chalabi, a Shiite lawmaker who recently joined the Supreme Council and was a Washington favorite to lead Iraq a decade ago. Another Shiite from the Supreme Council who is trying to land the job is Bayan Jabr, a former finance and interior minister under Maliki's tenure, according to the politicians.
An Iraqi Shiite lawmaker, Hakim al-Zamili, said there was a recent meeting between Iraqi and U.S. officials over the issue of Maliki's future, though he did not know who attended the meeting.
Zamili belongs to a political bloc loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has publicly demanded that Maliki be replaced. But, he said, efforts to replace Maliki should come only after Iraqi security forces beat back the Sunni militants.
"We will settle the accounts later," Zamili said.