Connect to share and comment

In Iraq, Americans have one foot out the door

As US forces head for Afghanistan, real security remains elusive in Iraq.

More than two months after the national poll, election workers are still laboriously recounting each Baghdad ballot by hand in an attempt to prove that it wasn’t fraud that left Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with two seats fewer than his nearest rival.

In Iraq, there’s no such thing as a graceful loser.

The splitting of votes among four main political blocs has led to a frenzy of legal challenges, political machinations and hurried trips to foreign capitals for help. Political leaders seem to be talking to everyone but each other. Maliki and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi — both key parts of any coalition — have yet to meet. Instead, Allawi warned of the danger of a new civil war if his secular coalition and its Sunni supporters are ignored. He then flew off to Amman.

What will likely be the foundation of a governing coalition — Maliki’s State of Law and his former Shiite partners in the Iraqi National Alliance — are deeply split over who would be prime minister.

“Maliki is behaving like the head of a corporation and not a political list,” said Baha al-Araji, a senior official with the Sadr movement — most powerful bloc within the Iraqi National Alliance. “What held us back from forming a coalition before was Maliki’s insistence to be nominated as prime minister."

Over the past two years, Maliki has alienated almost every political ally he ever had — particularly the Sadrists against whom he essentially waged war when he sent in the Iraqi army to take back Basra from the Mehdi Army — a key reason for his popularity in the polls.

With followers of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr holding 40 seats in the new 325-seat parliament, a substantial part of the new government will be made up of a party that refuses to talk to the U.S.

The Kurds — another essential part in any coalition government — are holding out for the best deal they can get on disputed territories and the status of Kirkuk. But first they have to make peace among themselves.

A June congress in Kurdistan is designed to smooth over differences — between President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the upstart change party, and Kurdish President Massoud Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party — that threaten to keep the Kurds eternally divided.

“It’s interesting that we’ve seen fairly little in terms of Kurdish issues so far — I think that’s partly because the Kurds need to get their own house in order and try to get an agreement on a common front on negotiations with Baghdad,” said Sean Kane, a former U.N. expert on Kurdish issues now at the U.S. Institutes for Peace.