A top State Department official has publicly backed Iraq’s new president, Fuad Masum, during what appears to be a coup-like crisis with Iraq’s embattled incumbent prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
The tweeted endorsement comes as Baghdad media reports a security crackdown in the capital.
Following recent elections, Iraq’s various parliamentary factions need to pick a prime minister — either the incumbent Maliki or a replacement — amid the crisis caused by the violent advance of jihadis operating from the northeast of Iraq.
The new president’s limited powers include oversight of the process via which parliament chooses the prime minister.
Incumbent Maliki says he and his party should be allowed to negotiate a majority coalition in parliament, and he claims that Masum is improperly inviting other parties to assemble a replacement coalition.
Iraqi security forces deployed in Baghdad Aug. 10, prompting media and local observers to suggest Maliki is using his military clout to pressure Masum.
But the United States has backed Masum and called for Maliki’s replacement.
U.S. officials have repeatedly blamed Maliki for failing to win the support of Sunnis, who are an embittered minority in the sharply polarized country. Many of those Sunnis have joined with the jihadi force, dubbed the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
“Fully support President of #Iraq Fuad Masum as guarantor of the Constitution and a PM nominee who can build a national consensus,” said the Sunday tweet from Brett McGurk, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, including Iraq and Iran.
Fully support President of #Iraq Fuad Masum as guarantor of the Constitution and a PM nominee who can build a national consensus.
— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) August 10, 2014
On Saturday, Obama called for Iraq’s government to include all the various factions, following recent elections in the country. “We continue to call on Iraqis to come together and form the inclusive government that Iraq needs right now,” he said in a short press event on the South Lawn of the White House.
“Vice President Biden has been speaking to Iraqi leaders, and our team in Baghdad is in close touch with the Iraqi government,” he said.
“All Iraqi communities are ultimately threatened by these barbaric terrorists and all Iraqi communities need to unite to defend their country,” he said.
McGurk is a former official in President George W. Bush’s administration, according to his State Department bio.
“He was also one of the chief architects with President Bush of the strategy known as the surge, which contributed to a reduction of violence in Iraq and set the conditions for the responsible withdrawal of U.S. forces. He earlier served as a legal advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority and then the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad under Ambassador John Negroponte.”
“McGurk has served as a special advisor to the National Security Staff and as Senior Advisor to Ambassadors Ryan Crocker, Christopher Hill, and James Jeffrey in Baghdad. … McGurk participated in President Obama’s 2009 review of Iraq policy and helped manage the transition from military to civilian lead in the wake of the U.S. military drawdown,” said his bio.