Nuri al-Maliki
Nuri al-Maliki Reuters

Iraq's former premier and current vice president, Nuri al-Maliki, blamed "conspiracies" Saturday for the loss of major cities to jihadists and said Baghdad should prioritize paramilitaries over the army to fight them.

But Maliki, who was prime minister when the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group began a brutally effective offensive last year, failed to mention the role he and his government played in the debacle.

"Mosul would not have fallen except for a conspiracy, and Ramadi would not have fallen except for a conspiracy," he said in televized remarks, referring to two major cities lost to ISIS.

He blamed politicians who opposed him and said a plot to weaken the army was hatched in a neighboring country, but did not name names.

And he even said that denying the existence of a conspiracy amounts to one: "It is a conspiracy to say that there is not a conspiracy."

Maliki, a Shi'ite, pursued policies while premier that angered and isolated Iraq's Sunni Arabs, who make up the backbone of ISIS's support, making it easier for the group to operate and expand.

And as commander-in-chief, he sought to centralize control of the military in his office and played a significant part in its degradation, including by appointing commanders because of loyalty over skill.

On Saturday, he said Iraq should give priority to paramilitaries known as Hashed al-Shaabi, or "popular mobilization" forces, instead of the army.

"Today, we must focus our effort on the Hashed al-Shaabi until we are liberated and end (ISIS) and free our lands, and then return to building the army," Maliki said.

Last June, with security forces in disarray and ISIS advancing toward Baghdad, Maliki announced that the government would arm citizens who volunteered to fight.

Tens of thousands did so, but pre-existing Iran-backed Shi'ite militias were the core of that force, and continue to be. 

They helped stop the ISIS advance and were later central to operations that retook one province and large parts of another from the jihadists.

But the power of the militias is also a threat to the Iraqi state, which claims to command them but does not control them, and they could also eventually turn on each other.