(USA TODAY) -- Iraq President Fouad Massoum on Monday named a replacement for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, upping the stakes in the fierce struggle for political control of the besieged government.
Massoum's nominee, Haider al-Abadi, has 30 days to select a new cabinet.
A defiant Al-Maliki said Monday he intends to serve a third term. He has bitterly fought efforts by Massoum -- and the U.S. government -- to replace him. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday reiterated U.S. support for Maliki's exit, saying the Shiite leader has little support in Iraq.
"We believe that the vast majority of the people of Iraq are united in an effort to be able to have this peaceful transition," Kerry said in remarks made in Sydney, Australia. "We believe that the government formation process is critical, in terms of sustaining the stability and calm in Iraq. And our hope is that Mr. Maliki will not stir those waters."
The nomination came as the Obama administration acknowledge it has begun providing weapons to Kurdish forces who are battling a powerful militant army in northern Iraq. That militant group, known as both ISIS and ISIL, is also the target of U.S. airstrikes that began last week, designed to protect U.S. personnel and religious minorities under siege from the militants.
"ISIL has obtained some heavy weaponry, and the Kurds need additional arms and we're providing those," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
ISIL -- the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -- has vowed to carve a Muslim state out of Sunni-majority sections of Iraq and Syria. The group, with its harsh interpretation of Islamic law, has been designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and other western countries.
Maliki, a Shiite, is taking his struggle to keep his job to the courts after announcing he will file a legal complaint on Monday against Massoum, the country's newly elected president and a Kurd.
The deadlock over a new government has plunged Iraq into a political crisis.
The prime minister said the president, who was elected by parliament, is obstructing al-Maliki's re-election and has carried out "a coup against the constitution and the political process."
Al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated bloc won the most parliament seats in April elections and the prime minister sees himself as rightfully keeping the post for a third term. He had accused Massoum of neglecting to name a prime minister by Sunday's deadline.
In a sign of rising tensions, Iraqi special forces loyal to al-Maliki were deployed at Baghdad's main intersections on Monday, police officials said. Two of the capital's main streets — popular spots for pro and anti-government rallies — were partially closed as hundreds of al-Maliki's supporters took to the streets.
"We are with you, al-Maliki," they shouted, waving posters of the incumbent premier, singing and dancing.
The U.S. airstrikes have reinvigorated Iraqi Kurdish forces battling ISIL in northern and western Iraq. The Kurdish peshmerga fighters retook two towns — Makhmour and al-Gweir, some 28 miles (45 kilometers) from the Kurdish capital of Irbil — from the Sunni militants on Sunday, achieving one of their first victories after weeks of retreating.
The United States launched a fourth round of airstrikes Sunday against militant vehicles and mortars firing on Irbil as part of efforts to blunt the militants' advance and protect American personnel in and around the Kurdish capital.
U.S. warplanes and drones have also attacked militants firing on minority Yazidis around Sinjar, which is in the far west of the country near the Syrian border.
Contributing: Associated Press