The defiant stance of the Sunni-backed group threatens to shatter the fragile rapprochement between majority Sunnis and Shiites just three years since the country stepped back from the brink of sectarian civil war. It also is a direct blow to U.S. calls for a new government to represent all Iraqi rival groups and move ahead with reconciliation and desperately needed reconstruction projects…

On Sunday, a key Sunni political leader in the northern city of Mosul told The Associated Press that a return of al-Maliki as government leader would destroy the country’s “last chance for democracy.”

“If Iraqis can’t get together to form a government that is in keeping with the election results, there will be no longer any kind of support for democracy. And in the future there will be no desire to join the democratic process,” said Atheel al-Nujaifi, governor of the northern Ninevah province.