BAGHDAD — Despite sharp criticism from almost every political party in Iraq and pressure from friendly foreign powers to step down, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced Friday that he would run for a third term as prime minister.
He had never suggested he would step down. But the chorus of criticism over his sectarian policies, which helped create the conditions that led to a large swath of the country falling to Islamic extremists, had left many believing that lacking supporters, he might relinquish power.
They appear to have underestimated his desire to hold on to it.
"I will not give up my candidacy for a third term," al-Maliki, a Shiite who has been prime minister since 2006, announced in a statement read on the state TV channel.
He noted the bloc of lawmakers that supported his nomination won the most parliamentary seats in April elections. He said they should not be asked to meet any conditions imposed by other legislative groups, such as supporting a different candidate.
Suggesting he was akin to a soldier who does not desert the battlefield, al-Maliki said he would "defend Iraq and its people" against "terrorists," a reference to members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Sunni extremist group that has taken control of many cities in the country's north and west, including Mosul, Iraq's second-largest urban area.
Al-Maliki's language, which had an almost messianic tone, suggested that he would prove difficult to dislodge and that the negotiations over forming a new government could drag on for weeks, if not months.
His statement defied not just other lawmakers but also Iraq's senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, who on Friday said the parliament's inability to form a government at its first meeting Tuesday was a "disappointing failure."
Speaking through his representative, Ahmed al-Safi, al-Sistani said Iraq's politicians must form a government "rapidly" and adhere to the constitutional schedule, which calls for a complete government to be in place by mid August. Most important, al-Safi said, the government must reflect "national consensus."
Al-Safi also indirectly admonished the Kurds and other groups not to take advantage of the demographic shifts caused by the exodus of many minority groups from areas taken over by Sunni militants.
Fears have grown that the Kurds will use the situation to extend their sphere of influence. They have done that in Kirkuk, a disputed city in an northern area endowed with oil.