Kurdish Forces Reclaim 2 Iraqi Cities Taken By Sunni Extremists

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For the latest news out of Iraq, Steve Inskeep talks to Washington Post reporter Loveday Morris and Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a correspondent for the news website Al-Monitor.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. From a distance it seems like Iraq is at risk of collapse. But in Baghdad there's still plenty of time for a struggle for political power. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is still fighting to stay in office and in a speech last night resisted calls for his resignation. But just hours ago, the president of that country nominated another man, Iraq's deputy speaker of Parliament, to try to form a government instead of Nouri al-Maliki. The Washington Post's Loveday Morris is following this story from Baghdad. Welcome back to the program.

LOVEDAY MORRIS: Hi, thanks very much.

INSKEEP: So would you describe for us what the president's role is here and what it is he has done?

MORRIS: Well, the question of the role is largely a ceremonial role that he has one major task which is to appoint the largest bloc in parliament to nominate the candidate for Prime Minister. And today we had the largest bloc in parliament, or at least they argue that they are, who sent a message - their letter to the president, saying with 127 signatures, backing Haider al-Abadi for the role of prime minister. So Haider al-Abadi has now been called upon to form a government.

INSKEEP: Haider al-Abadi, that's the deputy speaker of parliament. So this would be someone who would become prime minister, assuming he can assemble a governing coalition, become Prime Minister instead of Nouri al-Maliki, right?

MORRIS: Right. And has 127 names behind him already. Just from the Shia politicians. So it does look like he'd be able to get the support to form a government, yes.

INSKEEP: So what is Nouri al-Maliki's next move, the current Prime Minister?

MORRIS: Well, that's what everyone's waiting to see, really. Potentially he could make things very nasty. He has forces loyal to him. There are militias that are loyal to him. But then, at the end of the day, the actual final loyalty is to Iran - which is not pleased. So even so if he really tries to grip on, it could be the case that he doesn't have many avenues to go down. But still in the short-term he could make things very difficult.

INSKEEP: Now let's just remember why it is that there is so much controversy here. This is a country that it's at war, largely at war with itself. This group ISIS or the Islamic State has taken over much of the northern part of the country and continues to make gains. Why is it, just remind us, that many people in Iraq are demanding a new leader at this time?

MORRIS: Right. Well, Maliki critics basically argue that he is partially responsible for the break-up of the country - the de facto break-up of the country - so ISIS making of all these gains in the West in Demasi (ph), in Albar (ph), in Mosul.

INSKEEP: Sunni areas mostly?

MORRIS: Yes exactly. He completely isolated the Sunnis. He's achieved this voting sectarianism and playing on those sort of sectarian tones to sort of stay in power.

INSKEEP: You know, you just used the phrase de facto break-up of the country. I'm trying to understand this from a distance - we do have this group ISIS which has taken over many largely Sunni areas. Of core Shiites who dominate the government still have Baghdad and southern Iraq. And the Kurds are tried to hold onto their slice of northern Iraq. Are people talking now as if Iraq is finally partitioned in the way that many analysts had been forecasting, expecting or even demanding for many years?

MORRIS: I think there's definitely no doubt, you know, the de facto fact on the ground. You do have ISIS just carrying their cafes (ph). You have the Kurds in the North talking about a referendum and then obviously Shia itself. So no one can deny that there are huge fractions in the country. People are talking about very different forms of government - more autonomy, sort of different provinces, which might be more suited to this country. But as far as a full breakup is concerned - I think even the Kurds are looking towards Baghdad and willing to give a new government a chance before they fully pull away. So I think, you know, as far as the break-up of the country is concerned, that's still a long way off.

INSKEEP: Loveday Morris of the Washington Post is in Baghdad. Thank you very much.

MORRIS: Thank you very much.

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