- The Washington Times - Monday, August 11, 2014

Iraq’s president nominated a new prime minister Monday to replace powerful incumbent Nouri al-Maliki, and President Obama backed the move quickly as the U.S. tried to quell a power struggle in Baghdad and counter the threat from Sunni militants.

Administration officials, meanwhile, said the U.S. has begun directly providing weapons to Kurdish forces who have started to make gains against Islamic militants in northern Iraq, but the aid has so far been limited to automatic rifles and ammunition. Pentagon officials told The Washington Times that they are debating whether to give rocket launchers to Kurdish fighters engaged in a ground war with the militants.

In a televised address, new Iraqi President Fouad Massoum selected the deputy parliament speaker, Haider al-Ibadi, as Mr. Maliki’s replacement and gave him 30 days to form a government and present it to parliament for approval. Mr. Ibadi, a Shiite who has turned against Mr. Maliki, pledged that his government will “protect the Iraqi people.”

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Mr. Obama interrupted briefly his vacation at Martha’s Vineyard to praise the choice of Mr. Ibadi, saying it marked the start of a new effort to form a more inclusive government to unify Iraqis in the fight against terrorists of the Islamic State.

“Iraq took a promising step forward in this critical effort,” Mr. Obama said. “This is an important step in forming a new government that can unite Iraq’s different communities.”

Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden called Mr. Ibadi within hours of his nomination and urged him to form a new, more diverse Cabinet “as soon as possible,” the president said.

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The White House, which rarely describes the foreign side of high-level phone conversations, reported that Mr. Ibadi said he intends “to move expeditiously to form a broad-based, inclusive government capable of countering the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and building a better future for Iraqis from all communities.”

On Monday, U.S. fighter jets carried out airstrikes on four checkpoints manned by Sunni militants in northwest Iraq near where thousands of minority Yazidi refugees have been trapped on a mountain to escape violence.

The U.S. military said in a statement Monday that the strikes outside the city of Sinjar either destroyed or damaged the checkpoints and nearby vehicles that were used by the Islamic State militant group.

At least one of the vehicles destroyed was a Humvee truck, and another was an armed personnel carrier. The militants have been using U.S. military equipment that they seized from Iraqi army forces.

A senior Pentagon official, Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville Jr., said the airstrikes and other U.S. efforts are not a solution to defeat the militants permanently.

“We assess that U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq have slowed ISIL’s operational tempo and temporarily disrupted their advances toward” the town of Irbil, Gen. Mayville said. “However, these strikes are unlikely to affect ISIL’s overall capabilities or its operations in other areas of Iraq and Syria.”

The Islamic State is “very well organized,” well equipped and has been strategically coordinating their operations, according to Gen. Mayville. As the airstrikes continue, the U.S. government remains “gripped by the immediacy of the crisis,” he said.

The Pentagon has conducted 17 airstrikes in northern Iraq since the campaign began Friday. U.S. military aircraft ramped up delivery of humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of Yazidi ethno-religious minorities, who have been trapped for more than a week on a mountaintop.

While Mr. Obama called on Iraqis to form a new government swiftly, Mr. Maliki threatened to make that job more difficult. In a midnight speech, Mr. Maliki said he was filing a suit against the president for neglecting to name him prime minister by Sunday’s deadline, and he all but demanded he be renominated.

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