U.S.: Baghdad situation tense, no tanks at president's compound

By Jeff Mason EDGARTOWN Mass (Reuters) - The United States views defiant comments from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as troubling but has seen no evidence of Iraqi forces mobilizing in an unusual way despite a tense climate in Baghdad, a U.S. official said on Sunday. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he had spoken to Iraq's Kurdish President Fouad Masoum and his aides, who said reports of tanks surrounding the presidential compound were not true. Special forces loyal to Maliki were deployed in strategic areas of Baghdad on Sunday night after he delivered a tough speech indicating he would not cave in to pressure to drop a bid for a third term, police sources said. The official said Maliki's comments were troubling and made clear the United States would not support implicit or explicit threats that circumvented the Iraqi constitution. He said the situation in Baghdad was tense but calm. Having tanks stationed at the entrance to Baghdad's Green Zone, which houses government buildings, was common, he said, and projections of political violence erupting on Monday were overwrought. The current standoff underscores the tenuousness of Maliki’s political position, as factions of his own party withdraw support and other elements of the country’s Shi’ite establishment, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, suggest he must step down. Washington believes there is still time for an alternative to Maliki to be nominated. Earlier Maliki accused Masoum of violating the constitution by missing a deadline for him to ask the biggest political bloc to nominate a prime minister and form a government. Maliki also said he would submit a complaint against Masoum to a top Iraqi court. The official said it appeared Masoum would submit a counter-complaint to that court. (Additional reporting by Missy Ryan in Washington; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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