TEHRAN (AFP) -- Iran, a key ally of Iraq's sidelined Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said Tuesday it backed the legal process which led to him being replaced, following the nomination of Haidar al-Abadi as premier.
The statement was the first official signal that Maliki no longer enjoys the support of his fellow Shiite leaders and politicians in Tehran to stay on as head of government in Baghdad.
Ali Shamkhani, secretary and representative of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Iran's Supreme National Security Council, made the remarks at a meeting of Iranian ambassadors in Tehran, the Fars and Mehr news agencies said.
"The framework provided by the Iraqi constitution stipulates that the prime minister has been chosen by the majority group in the parliament," Shamkhani said.
Iran was influential in ensuring that Maliki retained the post of prime minister and served a second term following Iraq's inconclusive general election in 2010.
Although Maliki won the largest number of seats in elections last April, the country's politics have been overshadowed by a Wahhabi militant surge in the north, which he has failed to quell.
On Monday, Iraq's President Fuad Masum tasked Abadi, who was deputy speaker in parliament, with forming a new government in a move angrily denounced by Maliki.
Iran's Shamkhani called on "all groups and coalitions in Iraq to protect the national interest," taking into account the need to "deal with external threats."
Iran has expressed support for Maliki throughout the battle against Islamic State militants but has also called for national unity and said it would back the Baghdad parliament's choice of prime minister.