Maliki, Iraq's rebel-turned-PM who fought to the end

Maliki, Iraq's rebel-turned-PM who fought to the end
Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speaks during an interview with Reuters in Baghdad in this January 12, 2014 file photo.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq’s Nuri al-Maliki, a rebel-turned-leader who rose from anonymous exile to powerful premier widely criticised as authoritarian, fought to the end for another term but lost support and ultimately his office as security collapsed.

After a strong showing in April polls, the two-term premier insisted the top job should again be his, but President Fuad Masum tasked Haidar al-Abadi, a member of Maliki’s Dawa party, with forming a new government instead.

Maliki, a 64-year-old Shiite Arab, vowed to sue Masum, a Kurd, railed against him for allegedly violating the constitution, and ordered a massive security deployment in Baghdad.

But international backing poured in for Abadi, and the office of Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, who is revered by millions, released a letter calling for the premier to go.

“I announce before you today... the withdrawal of my candidacy in favour of the brother Doctor Haidar al-Abadi,” Maliki said in a televised address on Thursday, with his successor at his side.

The announcement marks the end of his controversial time in power, which began in 2006, when he was regarded as a weak compromise candidate who emerged from the shadows to become premier.

He has since undergone several transformations, from a nationalist who battled militiamen from his own Shiite community and presided over a sharp decline in violence to being accused of amassing power and sidelining partners.

Maliki’s eight years in office were markedly different from his life before the 2003 US-led invasion.

Born Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in a predominantly Shiite town south of Baghdad, he joined the Islamic Dawa party – the oldest Iraqi movement opposed to Saddam Hussein – while at university.

He fled in 1979 after the dictator banned the party, and Dawa says he was later sentenced to death in absentia.

From 1980, he lived in Iran and then Syria, where he edited Dawa’s newspaper. In exile, he adopted the nom de guerre Jawad and coordinated cross-border raids from Iran into Iraq.

He returned after Saddam’s ouster in the 2003 US-led invasion and became a member of the de-Baathification commission that barred Saddam supporters from public office.

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