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Iraq's pick for prime minister appears to have approval of Iran

The lawmaker tapped to be Iraq's new prime minister has apparently received backing from Iran
A top Iranian security official welcomes 'the legal process of electing a new prime minister in Iraq'
The Pentagon to send 130 more troops to northern Iraq to determine how to help the thousands of refugees

The lawmaker tapped to succeed Nouri Maliki as Iraq’s prime minister appeared to receive the backing Tuesday of neighboring Iran, a crucial Baghdad ally and major supporter of political factions and militias in the deeply divided nation.

The United States has already endorsed the nomination of Haider Abadi as Iraq’s next premier, the nation’s most powerful political post.

On Tuesday, a top Iranian security official, Ali Shamkhani, publicly welcomed “the legal process of electing a new prime minister in Iraq,” reported the semiofficial Fars News Agency.

Analysts widely interpreted the remarks as an indication that the Iranian leadership was satisfied with the premier-designate and was not going to exert its considerable influence on behalf of Maliki, who has been pushing for a third term.

The comments from Tehran came a day after Abadi, a longtime Iraqi lawmaker and deputy speaker of the country's parliament, was formally nominated to succeed Maliki.

Maliki, who has become an extremely polarizing figure in Iraq, has vowed to challenge the move in court, calling it a “coup.”

Shamkhani, an Arabic speaker who recently visited Iraq, is secretary of Iran’s powerful Supreme National Security Council and is also said to be close to President Hassan Rouhani. His comments probably represent an official Iranian position, observers said.

The twin endorsements from Iraq’s two crucial allies — Iran and the United States — would appear to add momentum to Abadi’s nomination. The two adversarial nations have deep differences on a constellation of issues in the Middle East and elsewhere, but both now seem to agree that Maliki should step aside.

Iraq has been embroiled in a months-long political stalemate, even as the nation faces a grave threat from Sunni Muslim militants who have overrun much of the north and west. Critics say the prime minister’s policies pushed Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority into the militants’ camp, a charge rejected by Maliki and his allies.

Various Kurdish lawmakers and a leading Shiite Muslim militia on Tuesday also publicly backed Abadi, who, like Maliki, is a member of the Shiite majority in Iraq.

A number of Shiite groups and the nation’s leading Shiite cleric had called on Maliki to abandon his bid for a third term. Shiite Iran wields great influence with the Shiite factions in Iraq.

The Iraqi government operates under a power-sharing arrangement among Shiites, Sunni Arabs and ethnic Kurds.

Abadi has 30 days to form a new government, which could be a contentious process. He must balance political demands and sectarian sensitivities in naming Cabinet members for what he has vowed will be an “inclusive” government.

Also Tuesday, a pilot died in the crash of a helicopter delivering aid to stranded minority Yazidis in northern Iraq and evacuating some of the refugees from the Sinjar mountains.

Among those injured in the accident was New York Times correspondent Alissa J. Rubin, who “apparently suffered a concussion, at least one broken wrist and possibly some broken ribs, but was conscious,” according to the newspaper. Rubin, 56, wrote for the Los Angeles Times for about a decade, including a stint as the paper’s bureau chief in Baghdad, through late 2006.

Others injured included photographer Adam Ferguson and Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi member of Iraq’s parliament, the newspaper said.

The Pentagon announced Tuesday that it was sending 130 more troops to northern Iraq to determine how to help the thousands of refugees. On Tuesday, Air Force cargo aircraft dropped 7,608 gallons of water and 14,112 rations to people stranded in the mountains.

The Marines and special operations troops will “assess the scope of the humanitarian mission” and develop options beyond airdropping supplies for the refugees, the Pentagon said. Around 100 American troops are already in Irbil, capital of the semiautonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

Times staff wrtier McDonnell reported from Irbil and special correspondent Mostaghim from Tehran. Staff writer David S. Cloud in Washington contributed to this report.

For more news from Iraq, follow @mcdneville on Twitter

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

Aug. 12, 7:16 p.m.: This article has been updated with information about aid deliveries to stranded Iraqis.

Aug. 12, 5:34 p.m.: This article has been updated with information about U.S. troops in Iraq.

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