Iraq's prime minister agrees to step down

Aug 14, 2014, 4:26 PM EDT
U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jessica J. Wilkes - DVIDS Archive
U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jessica J. Wilkes

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced on Thursday his intention to relinquish power and support Haidar al-Abadi, his nominated replacement, in the post.

The decision came after deliberations late Thursday night, according to the Associated Press:

Four senior Shiite lawmakers tell The Associated Press that al-Maliki has agreed to endorse Haider al-Abadi as the next prime minister following a meeting of Dawa party members in Baghdad late Thursday, ending the deadlock that has plunged Baghdad into a political uncertainty.
Hussein al-Maliki and Khalaf Abdul-Samad, lawmakers with al-Maliki and al-Abadi's State of Law parliamentary bloc, say al-Maliki will support al-Abadi's nomination in his speech Thursday night. Two other lawmakers, speaking to AP on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door meeting, also say al-Maliki will do so.
As Al Jazeera points out, al-Maliki backed himself into a corner amid the country's ongoing political crisis:
Maliki also signed a letter - along with other Shia political leaders - declaring that the "National Alliance" was the largest bloc in parliament. Furthermore, Abadi was recently elected deputy speaker of parliament as the National Alliance candidate - not the State of Law candidate.
In other words, Maliki himself recognised the legitimacy of the National Alliance as the largest bloc in parliament but has now reversed his position because they have nominated someone other than himself to be the next prime minister.
The international and regional response to Abadi's nomination has been near unanimous. The United States, United Kingdom, European Union and United Nations have all publicly expressed support for Abadi. On a regional level, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the Arab League and even Maliki's erstwhile ally Iran have all publicly expressed support for Abadi.

Al-Maliki's decision to step down peacefully does not mean the end of Iraq's instability, however, as Tom Kutsch notes:

Despite what some saw as a breakthrough with the naming of deputy parliamentary speaker Haider al-Abadi as prime minister on Monday, Middle East expert Juan Cole wrote that the situation remains as fraught as ever. He notes that there remain several competing power centers vying for control in Iraq, including: Abadi, the newly picked Shia successor to Maliki who is attempting to create a new governing coalition; the independence-minded Kurds, who are operating with direct U.S. support in their battle against the Islamic State (IS); and lastly the IS itself, which continues to press its campaign of trying to conquer parts of the country.
Iraq’s already complicated conflicts are exacerbated by its role as a battleground in the broader regional contest between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which reinforces Sunni-Shia sectarian political rivalry. Iraq’s Kurds, meanwhile, have long sought independence from Iraq, and that drive has accelerated amid the security breakdown prompted by the rise of IS.