BAGHDAD - Iraq's incumbent prime minister ordered the security forces on Tuesday not intervene in the current political crisis over who will be the next prime minister, amid fears that he might go to any lengths to stay in power.
Nouri al-Maliki urged army, police and security forces in statement to stay out of the political crisis and focus on defending the country. On the eve of the announcement Monday that many of his political allies were abandoning him, the prime minister ordered troops into the streets.
Iraqi President Fouad Massoum has named the deputy speaker of parliament, Haider al-Abadi from al-Maliki's own Dawa Party, to form a new government - a move the incumbent has angrily rejected.
The White House has been anxiously watching the development unfold, reports CBS News correspondent Major Garrett. There had been fears in the Obama administration that al-Maliki might try to keep power by force, despite the many security issues facing the country.
Al-Maliki appeared even more isolated Tuesday as Iraqi politicians and the international community rallied behind a Shiite premier-designate who could be a more unifying figure, badly needed if the nation is to confront a spreading Sunni insurgency.
Al-Maliki, however, raised the specter of further unrest by warning that Sunni militants or Shiite militiamen might don uniforms try to take control of the streets on the pretext of supporting him.
"This is not allowed because those people, wearing army uniform and in military vehicles, might take advantage of the situation and move around and make things worse," he told senior army and police commanders.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday urged the prime minister-designate, Haider al-Abadi, to work quickly to form an inclusive government and said the U.S. is prepared to offer it significant additional aid in the fight against Islamic State militants.
A day earlier, President Obama acknowledged the "difficult task" facing the country's leaders.
"It has to regain the confidence of its citizens by governing inclusively, and by taking steps to demonstrate its resolve," Mr. Obama said Monday from Martha's Vineyard, where he is on his annual family vacation. "These have been difficult days in Iraq, a country that's faced so many challenges in its recent history, and I'm sure that there will be difficult days ahead but just as the United States will remain vigilant against the threat posted to our people by [Iraqi extremists], we stand ready to partner with Iraq in its fight against these terrorist forces."
The power struggle in Baghdad comes as Iraq is battling militants from the al Qaeda breakaway group in the north and the west. The onslaught by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and its Sunni militant allies has become the country's worst crisis since the U.S. troop withdrawal in 2011.
President Barack Obama called al-Abadi's nomination a "promising step forward" and urged "all Iraqi political leaders to work peacefully through the political process."
But al-Maliki, who has been in power for eight years, defiantly rejected the nomination, insisting it "runs against the constitutional procedures" and accusing the United States of siding with political forces "who have violated the constitution."