08/12/2014, 00.00
IRAQ
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Baghdad: as a new premier is named to stop the Islamist advance, al Sistani expresses solidarity to Christians

by Joseph Mahmoud

President Masum names Iraq's deputy parliamentary speaker as the new prime minister, a decision approved by the White House and the United Nations. However, outgoing Prime Minister al Maliki says he will resist the move. In Najaf the Chaldean patriarch and Iraq's highest Shia religious leader meet. Both are committed to Iraq's national unity, territorial integrity and all its components.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - Iraqi President Fuad Masum asked Haidar al Abadi to form a government, ending eight years of rule by outgoing Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki, who has been blamed for much of the divisions and violence in the country. However, the former prime minister, who won by a slim margin the elections last April, refuses to give up and deployed special army units in the streets of the capital.

High tensions in Baghdad among Iraqi leaders are not helping to stop the advance of the Islamic State (formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, ISIL), which seized more areas in northern Iraq.

In a televised speech Maliki, who has been accused of fomenting sectarian tensions and the progressive isolation of the Sunni minority, said that Mr Abadi's nomination was a "violation of the constitution" and that he would "fix the mistake".

The White House and the main international organisations were happy with Abadi's appointment. After withdrawing their support for Maliki, they had sought a government of national unity that would be able to bring Iraq back from the abyss, divisions and terror.

Washington, which after Saddam Hussein's overthrow in 2003, fostered the rise of former prime minister al Maliki urged him not to "stir the waters" using force to cling to power.

Even President Barack Obama said that the appointment of a new prime minister was an "important step" to push back the Islamist offensive.

During a phone call, Obama congratulated Abadi for his appointment, inviting him to speed up the formation of a new government open to all the ethnic and religious components of the country.

Words of support also came from the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who called on the new prime minister to seek a broad-based government acceptable to all components of Iraqi society.

Meanwhile the advance of the army of the Islamic State continues. The former seized segments of Iraqi Kurdistan despite US airstrikes, now in their fourth consecutive day.

Yesterday IS fighters captured the town of Jalawla, 115 km northeast of Baghdad, after driving out the forces of the autonomous Kurdish region.

Islamist military successes go hand in hand with the desperate escape of thousands of Yazidis and Christians, who have fled their homes to escape massacres.

UN sources report that in the past three days thousands of Yazidis were able to escape with the support of Kurdish security forces, but many others are still trapped in the mountains without food or other means of livelihood.

A recent meeting between Iraq's highest Shia authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, and Chaldean Patriarch Raphael I Mar Louis Sako focused on Iraq's political crisis and the plight of religious minorities, including Christians.

The Chaldean patriarch met Iraq's most influential religious leader last Saturday in Najef. During their 20-minute meeting, the two discussed the formation of a government of national unity and viable ways to speed up the process.

"You are part of us and we are part of you, and you are in our hearts and we are suffering for what is happening to you. Sunnis and Shias are also targeted," al Sistani said.

The patriarch said he was "touched" by al Sistani's attention "for all Iraqi components, not only Shias" and for "maintaining national unity of Iraq and its territory".

Mar Sako described the suffering of more than 100,000 Christian refugees, who fled to the Kurdish region to escape Islamist violence and the Islamic State.

"Najef is open to the displaced families. They are welcomed," said al Sistani, a staunch supporter of national unity.

Mar Sako also noted that te duty of the leaders of the country's main religions is to take a clear and firm stance against violence and injustice and for the sanctity of human life.

Unfortunately, "Not everyone hears my voice or the voice of the pope. There are people who do not want to build a good country", al-Sistani replied.

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