SUNBURY — BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will not readily surrender power and is unlikely to do so unless chief ally Iran insists that he go, Maliki's foes and supporters are warning as pressure mounts on the embattled Iraqi leader to make concessions to rivals or step aside.
The pressure intensified Friday with an appeal by Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric for the swift formation of a new government capable of uniting Iraqis against the threat posed by Sunni militants who have seized large chunks of Iraqi territory over the past 10 days.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani did not directly mention Maliki, but he called for the creation of a government that has "broad national support," a clear reference to Maliki's failure to win the confidence of the country's Sunnis during his eight years in office. The message was delivered by his representative Ahmed al-Safi in the holy city of Karbala.
Sistani's message echoed one delivered by President Barack Obama on Thursday that hinted at a withdrawal of U.S. support for Maliki, whose authoritarian style and discriminatory behavior toward Iraq's Sunni minority are widely blamed for the bloodshed threatening to tear the country apart.
"Only leaders that can govern with an inclusive agenda are going to be able to truly bring the Iraqi people together and help them through this crisis," Obama said while announcing the dispatch of as many as 300 U.S. troops to assist Maliki's forces in their battle against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremists.
Persuading Maliki to step down could be difficult, say his political foes, who have long sought to persuade the United States that Maliki is a liability but have repeatedly failed to form a viable coalition against him.
"This is not going to be easy," said Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, a Sunni who has led many fruitless efforts to build parliamentary coalitions against Maliki in the past. "Maliki will not go quietly."