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Iraq political bloc spurns al-Maliki for top job

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BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s largest coalition of Shiite political parties chose Monday the deputy prime minister to be its candidate lead the government in a major defeat for incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki just hours after he declared himself the rightful candidate and put troops on the street.

The Iraqi National nominated Haider al-Ibadi to replace al-Maliki and to form a new government to unify the country against the growing threat of radical militants, alliance head Ibrahim al-Jaafari said in a statement.

Al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated bloc won the most parliament seats in April elections and the prime minister sees himself as rightfully keeping the post. He accused Massoum of neglecting to name a prime minister by Sunday’s deadline.

Critics say the Shiite al-Maliki contributed to the crisis by monopolizing power and pursuing a sectarian agenda that alienated the country’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities.

Al-Ibadi’s nomination came hours after al-Maliki deployed his elite security forces in the streets of Baghdad, partially closed two main streets – popular spots for pro and anti-government rallies – as hundreds of his supporters took to the streets.

“We are with you, al-Maliki,” they shouted, waving posters of the incumbent premier, singing and dancing.

Also Monday, senior U.S. officials said the Obama administration, which launched airdrops and airstrikes last week to support Kurdish and Iraqi forces battling militants from the Islamic State group, has begun directly providing weapons to the Kurdish peshmerga forces who have started to make gains against the al-Qaida breakaway group.