August 15, 2014 - 11:11 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has resigned, in a move observers hope will end a political crisis in Baghdad. Haider al-Abadi, a deputy speaker of parliament, has been asked by Iraq's president to form a government, BBC News reports.
Maliki's earlier refusal to resign after eight years in power had been blamed for deepening the crisis. The UN and U.S. have welcomed his resignation.
The government has been unable to stop Islamist fighters from seizing vast areas in northern Iraq. The offensive by the self-styled Islamic State (IS), a Sunni Muslim jihadist group formerly known as Isis, has triggered a security and humanitarian crisis, driving an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis from their homes.
Maliki spoke of the grave "terrorist" threat from IS before announcing his own exit. "I announce before you today, to ease the movement of the political process and the formation of the new government, the withdrawal of my candidacy in favour of brother Doctor Haider al-Abadi," he said.
He had earlier insisted that he should have the right to form the government, as leader of the biggest bloc in parliament.
The resignation brought an end to eight years of often divisive rule, when Maliki's government was accused of favouring the Shia majority. Critics say Maliki's sectarian policies had precipitated the current crisis.
Abadi is one of Iraq's most senior politicians, having held several high-profile posts since returning from exile in 2003. He is regarded by some as a moderate within Maliki's Dawa party, and has shown more of a willingness to compromise than his predecessor.
U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice praised Maliki's decision to step down, describing it as a "major step" towards uniting Iraq.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Maliki's withdrawal "will allow the crucial process to form a new government to proceed swiftly". "An inclusive, broad-based government ready to immediately tackle... pressing issues" was needed, he added.
Earlier, U.S. President Barack Obama offered his support to the prime minister-designate.