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Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki must be ousted from power and replaced with a secular and democratic leader who represents the interests of the entire country, two leading Iraqi politicians have demanded.

Sunni extremists ISIS should also be banned as a terrorist group, along with Iranian-backed Shiite militias like Asaib al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah and the Badr Corps, former Iraqi deputy PM Rafe al-Essawi and Nineveh province governor Atheel al-Nujaifi wrote in the New York Times.

Their article said Sunni Arab Muslims were now in a perilous position after Iran and the US used their influence to keep al-Maliki in power, which lead to the detention of thousands of Sunnis without trial.

 Exclusion from the democratic process and the violent crushing of peaceful Sunni protests has lead to emergence of ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, whose ideology Mr al-Essawi and Mr al-Nujaifi described as a 'perversion of Islam'.

Sunni tribes are now backing ISIS, not as fanatics, but because they see it as 'the lesser of two evils' compared with al-Maliki, they wrote.

They added: "But Iraqis can change that. First, we need a new prime minister. The Shiite parties must nominate a replacement for Mr Maliki.

"Iraqi politicians also must agree on a new balance between central authority and regional autonomy. The formula should include arrangements satisfactory to Iraq’s Kurds, who already have considerable local power; increased decentralization for the rest of the country; and a new arrangement for managing and sharing the proceeds of Iraq’s natural resources, particularly oil.

"Any agreement must include amnesty for the tens of thousands of Sunnis detained without trial, the release from detention of the Sunni politician Ahmed al-Alwani, the end of the counterproductive de-Baathification program, and the repealing of the counter-terrorism law, which has been used as a pretext to arrest Mr. Maliki’s Sunni rivals."

They said parliament should also reverse al-Maliki’s politicization of the security forces and establish new local forces to safeguard the population in Sunni areas.

They wrote: "The only armed forces permitted in Iraq would be those officially sanctioned by the government. ISIS would be banned as a terrorist group; so would Iranian-backed Shiite militias like Asaib al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah and the Badr Corps.

"A senior American official should be appointed to reach out to Iraqi Sunni leaders in and outside the country. We also need assistance to reform the Iraqi security forces, in which America invested so heavily.

"Another concern is the hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqis. The government has given help to displaced Shiites but not to Sunnis, who have gotten help from Saudi Arabia and the Kurdish regional government.

"Above all, we must move quickly. ISIS keeps recruiting in Nineveh, and threatening anyone who won’t pledge loyalty. Despite the horrors of our recent history, we can pass through this difficult period — with help from our American friends."

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