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Iraq's Prime Minister steps down

Al-Maliki claims he wants to spare country more bloodshed

Embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced late Thursday that he was relinquishing his post to his nominated replacement, ending a political deadlock that has plunged the country into uncertainty as it fights a Sunni militant insurgency.

Standing alongside senior members of his party, including rival Haider al-Abadi, al-Maliki said he was stepping aside in favour of his "brother", in order to "facilitate the political process and government formation."

Al-Maliki had been struggling for weeks to stay on for a third four-year term as prime minister amid an attempt by opponents to push him out, accusing him of monopolizing power and pursuing a fiercely pro-Shiite agenda that has alienated the Sunni minority.

The United States, the U.N. and a broad array of political factions in Iraq had backed al-Abadi, saying only a new leader could unify a country under siege from Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group that have captured large swathes of Iraqi territory.

Al-Maliki said his decision to throw his support behind al-Abadi reflected a desire to "safeguard the high interests of the country", adding that he would not be the cause of any bloodshed.

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