TEHRAN, Iran — A senior Iranian official offered his congratulations Tuesday to the Iraqi politician nominated to replace incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, suggesting key Iranian support for a new leader in Baghdad.
As the Iraqi premier fights to keep his job, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the powerful Supreme National Security Council, was quoted as congratulating the Iraqi people and their leaders for choosing Haider al-Abadi to be the new premier in a report on the official IRNA news agency.
Speaking to a group of Iranian diplomats brought home for an annual meeting, Shamkhani also urged Iraqi political groups to unite in the face of "foreign threats" and said Tehran supports Iraq's sovereignty and security. He said Iran "supports the legal process for choosing the new Iraqi prime minister."
Shamkhani is a close ally of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and a representative of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the council.
Iran is a key powerbroker in neighboring Iraq and influential with many of the Shiite political parties. It previously supported incumbent Nouri al-Maliki, who is struggling to stay in power.
The remarks were the first official comment by Iran specifically on al-Abadi's nomination and reflect Tehran's discontent over al-Maliki's role in increasing rifts among Shiite groups. Iran's Foreign Ministry later issued a statement saying that the Islamic Republic also "supports the quick appointment of members of the Cabinet by the prime minister."
Iraqi President Fouad Massoum on Monday selected al-Abadi, the deputy speaker of parliament from al-Maliki's Shiite Dawa party, to be the new prime minister. He has 30 days to present a new government to lawmakers for approval.
U.S. President Barack Obama has called al-Abadi's nomination a "promising step forward" and urged Iraqi political leaders to pursue a peaceful political process. Al-Maliki has rejected al-Abadi's nomination, insisting it "runs against the constitutional procedures."
Tehran-based political analyst Saeed Leilaz said Iran's decision came in part over its experiences in Syria supporting embattled President Bashar Assad during that country's civil war.
"Iran had no way but to change its strategy in Iraq. It had learned that al-Maliki's time was over," Leilaz said. "To prevent the disintegration of Iraq, a front of moderate factions from Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds should be formed."
On Monday, President Rouhani voiced concern about the political crisis in Baghdad in a call with the newly elected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"It is important for Iran that a person approved by a majority of the representatives of the people in the Iraqi parliament takes power and begins his legal actions in Iraq," Rouhani said.