By Daren Butler
ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi called on incumbent Nuri al-Maliki on Saturday to give up his bid for a third term in power or risk the dismemberment of Iraq.
Maliki on Friday rejected a chorus of such calls since militants of a group now calling itself the Islamic State rampaged through swathes of Iraq and declared a mediaeval-style caliphate in land they control in Iraq and neighboring Syria.
"I think it is time for Mr Maliki to leave the scene," Allawi told Reuters in an interview in Istanbul.
"If he stays on, I think there will be significant problems in the country and a lot of troubles. I believe that Iraq would go the route of dismemberment, ultimately, if this happens.
"Definitely there will be more violence, the security situation will deteriorate," added Allawi, a secular Shi'ite who took 21 seats in April's national election with his secular bloc. During his political career Allawi has drawn support heavily from disaffected Sunnis, who have felt excluded from power during Maliki's rule.
Maliki's statement on Friday will complicate efforts to form a new government to unite the ethnically and religiously divided country, something parliament failed to achieve this week. It extends a political deadlock made all the more dangerous by the pressing threat to Iraq's territorial integrity.
Allawi said Iraq needed a road map that prioritized reconciliation and the building of institutions, and that this was more important than the issue of who will be the next prime minister.
"It is not a matter of changing faces. It is a matter of agreeing on a road map, to get Iraq from where it is now to a brighter future. I think this road map should incorporate two important areas.
"One is the issue of reconciliation. The second is starting to lay down the ground to build the institutions of the state," he added.
"STILL HOPE" FOR IRAQ
The leaders of the various political factions needed to create a government of national unity committed to such a road map, he said.
Allawi, who met Turkish officials during his visit, also called for a meeting of Iraq's neighbors with the aim of preserving its unity and preventing the conflict spreading to other places.
He also criticized the government's response to the insurgency, saying more stress should be put on intelligence work and political engagement with Iraq's other communities, and that military activity should focused on "surgical attacks" by special forces.
"The element of using army and aircraft to hit at provinces cannot distinguish between civilian groups and military or terrorist groups; this can be very dangerous and backfire on the political situation," he said.
Allawi said he believed there was "still hope" for Iraq to survive as a unified state.
"It’s not too late," he said. "I believe we should reverse the situation, otherwise the country will drift into being dismembered, one way or another."
For years Allawi has been an outspoken critic of Maliki, whom he has accused of acting like Saddam Hussein in trying to silence opposition.
(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Stephen Powell)