BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's defiant fight to retain power in Iraq appeared to collapse Tuesday, after his former backers in Iran, the military and his party all signaled he could no longer expect their support.
He issued a statement saying that the security forces, which he had deployed around the capital Monday in what some took to be preparations for a coup, should stay out of politics. And the conversation in Baghdad shifted to how he would leave office and on what terms.
The shift came after Maliki made several last-ditch efforts to shore up support, only to be confronted late Monday night with delegations of officials, all pleading with him to back down for the good of the country.
Tuesday morning, an important Iraqi army general in Baghdad reached out to Iraq's new president, Fouad Massoum, and the man he nominated to be the next prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, and delivered the message that the military would not stand by Maliki, according to a senior Iraqi official.
Hours later, Maliki's office released a statement that reflected both the growing opposition to him and the reality that the military probably would not back him anyway: "Prime Minister Maliki urges commanders, officers and individuals to stay away from the political crisis and to commit to their military and security duties and tasks to protect the country, and not to intervene in this crisis. Leave this issue to the people, politicians and justice."
Iran, a longtime supporter of Maliki, also lent its weight Tuesday to the constitutional process of replacing him with Abadi. The secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, congratulated Abadi during a meeting of Iranian ambassadors, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry also voiced its support for Abadi, saying in a statement, according to the Tasnim News Agency, "The Islamic Republic of Iran supports all the steps taken in line with completing the political process in Iraq."
Some Iraqis said privately that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's influential Shiite cleric, also played an important role in orchestrating Maliki's retreat, dispatching emissaries to Iran and successfully seeking the government's cooperation in pressuring Maliki. Sistani was known to have been increasingly vexed over the political paralysis in Baghdad as militants with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria were gaining ground.
The Obama administration, which has deployed U.S. warplanes to help the Iraqi government battle a marauding force of Sunni militants in northern and western Iraq, has been pressing Maliki to move aside. President Barack Obama and his top aide congratulated Abadi on Monday and exhorted him to quickly form an inclusive government that would depart from Maliki's polarizing policies, which have alienated many in the Sunni and Kurd minorities.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the United States would consider expanding military and political support for Iraq if Abadi assumes the duties of prime minister and forms a more inclusive government.
NEW STRIKE by U.S.: In the continuing U.S. strikes against fighters of ISIS, a drone on Tuesday destroyed a militant mortar position that was threatening Kurdish forces defending refugees near the Syrian border. An Iraqi military helicopter, which was providing aid to civilians fleeing the militants, crashed near Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq, killing the pilot, army spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi said in a statement. The helicopter crashed after too many civilians tried to board it. The New York Times reported that one of its reporters, Alissa Rubin, was in the helicopter, and suffered an apparent concussion and a broken wrist in the crash.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.