August 18, 2015 / 2:06 PM / 2 years ago

Iraq's Maliki rejects blame for fall of Mosul

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Nuri al-Maliki speaks during an interview with Reuters in Baghdad January 12, 2014.Thaier Al-Sudani

BAGHDAD/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Iraq's former prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, on Tuesday denounced as worthless a parliamentary report which blamed him and others for the fall of Mosul to Islamic State last year and called for them to be referred to the judiciary.

"There is no value to the results that came out of the parliamentary investigation committee", Maliki said on Facebook in his first public comments since the report was released on Sunday and referred to the public prosecutor on Monday.

Maliki, whose website says he has been in Iran since Friday, said political differences in the panel compromised its objectivity.

By seeking to provide accountability for the loss of majority-Sunni Mosul, the report could help restore confidence in the Shi'ite-led government, especially among Sunni Muslims marginalized by Maliki's divisive politics.

It coincided with a campaign by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to reduce Iraq's patronage system, another move which could help rebuild a security apparatus riven with graft and mismanagement. But also risks further splits.

Abadi sacked a third of his cabinet on Sunday. On Tuesday he ordered the positions of advisers hired as contractors in ministries to be eliminated and limited the number of advisers for himself, the president, and the parliamentary speaker to five each.

The reforms follow weeks of street protests in Baghdad and southern cities demanding better government services and a call by leading Shi'ite Muslim cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to "strike with an iron fist" against corruption.

They are the biggest move yet by Abadi to strengthen his hand, even as nearly a third of Iraq's territory has fallen to Islamic State and the central government faces a financial crisis from the collapsing price of its oil exports.

Maliki Blames Turkey, Kurds

The parliamentary report alleged that Maliki had an inaccurate picture of the threat to Mosul because he chose corrupt commanders and failed to hold them accountable.

Maliki, who had previously accused unnamed countries, commanders and rival politicians of plotting the city's fall, on Tuesday blamed Turkish and Iraqi Kurdish leaders.

"What happened in Mosul was a conspiracy planned in Ankara, then the conspiracy moved to Erbil," he said in a second Facebook post, referring to the capitals of neighboring Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), a semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq whose forces have taken a leading role in battling Islamic State.

The report criticized the Turkish consul in Nineveh, of which Mosul is the capital, for alleged links to Islamic State, and Kurdish peshmerga fighters accused of confiscating weapons and ammunition abandoned by the military.

The consul was seized after Mosul's fall but released three months later following negotiations.

Turkish officials from Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu down have repeatedly and categorically denied supporting radical Islamist groups including Islamic State.

Turkey's foreign ministry said Maliki's remarks were "unacceptable" and that it had summoned the Iraqi ambassador in Ankara to protest.

"There is nothing about former Prime Minister Maliki's remarks to be taken seriously," the foreign ministry said. The comments were "prompted by his sense of guilt stemming from having played a part in the invasion of one third of Iraq by Islamic State, the deaths of tens of thousands and the dislocation of millions".

KRG Spokesman Safeen Dizayee said Erbil respected the panel's findings and accused Maliki of trying to shift blame away from himself. The Kurds have said the president of Iraq's Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani, warned Baghdad that Mosul was in danger shortly before its fall but Maliki refused their assistance.

The army's collapse in Mosul left the Baghdad government dependent on Shi'ite militias, many funded and assisted by neighboring Iran, to defend the capital from the radical Islamist insurgents and recapture lost ground.

The militias' participation in Baghdad's ongoing efforts to retake western Anbar province - Iraq's Sunni heartland - from Islamic State could further inflame sectarian tensions there.

It was not clear whether or when Maliki would return from Iran, which supported him for much of his eight divisive years as premier but backed Abadi last summer after the fall of Mosul, Iraq's second city, exposed the weakness of the system left by the 2003-2011 U.S. occupation.

Maliki's vice president position was canceled last week in the first wave of Abadi's reforms. On Sunday, Abadi sacked a third of his cabinet, reducing the number of ministers to 22 by eliminating positions or combining some ministries with others.

Following the first meeting of the downsized cabinet, Abadi said the cuts were aimed at reducing flab but were not targeted at a specific bloc or person.

"It does not mean the people whose positions were canceled are accused of corruption", a statement from his office said.

Along with eliminating Iraq's three vice president positions, Abadi has cut politicians' security details and other perks, encouraged corruption investigations and given himself the power to fire provincial governors and regional officials.

Additional reporting by Isabel Coles in Erbil and Ece Toksabay in Ankara; editing by Philippa Fletcher, Larry King

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