According to The Associated Press, Prominent Shiite leaders pushed Thursday (June 26) for the removal of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as Parliament prepared to start work next week on putting together a new government, under intense US pressure to rapidly form a united front against an unrelenting Sunni insurgent offensive.
Increasingly, al-Maliki's former allies believe he cannot lead an inclusive government that can draw minority Sunnis away from support for the fighters who have swept over a large swath of Iraq as they head toward the capital, Baghdad.
A senior Iranian general who met with Shiite politicians in Iraq during a 10-day visit this month returned home with a list of potential prime minister candidates for Iran's leadership to consider, several senior Iraqi Shiite politicians who have knowledge of the general's meetings.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wants al-Maliki to remain in his post, at least for now, politicians say, but Iran's moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, believes al-Maliki must go or else Iraq will completely unravel.
The general, Ghasem Soleimani, is expected to return within days to inform Iraqi politicians of Tehran's favorite.
COMMENT: Washington and its allies are pushing for the creation of a government that can draw support among Iraq's Sunni minority, which has been alienated by al-Maliki, seen as a fiercely partisan Shiite.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, meeting with al-Maliki in Baghdad on Thursday, told a news conference that "we believe the urgent priority must be to form an inclusive government ... that can command the support of all Iraqis and work to stop terrorists and their terrible crimes."
Hague's trip follows a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who earlier this week delivered a similar message.
Compounding the pressure on al-Maliki, a prominent Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, called in a televised statement late Wednesday (June 25) for a national unity government of "new faces" representing all groups.
Also, Iraq's most revered and influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, appealed to al-Maliki through an intermediary to step aside because he fears al-Maliki is driving Iraq into fragmentation, according to a senior member of a prominent Shiite family that has for decades maintained regular contact with al-Sistani.
The US is pressing for Parliament to act quickly on forming the new government, a process that took nine months in 2010.