Iraq's prime minister-delegate Nouri Kamal al-Maliki got a clear look at the challenges facing him (BBC) in the few days since his nomination. A new wave of attacks across Iraq, including a mortar attack on Baghdad's administrative center (al-Jazeera), underscores the degree to which sectarian militias are making the country ungovernable (LAT).
Still, the announcement late last week that Ibrahim al-Jaafari would withdraw his bid to remain Iraq's prime minister (LAT) constitutes a breakthrough toward the formation of a new government. Steven Simon, CFR Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, notes the hand of Washington behind the choice "Jaafari Junior," as he called Maliki. "This episode shows that we're not without a degree of power in that country," he says in an interview with cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman.
The nomination of a new leader was a prerequisite to calming Iraq's violent atmosphere, as this new CFR Background Q&A explains, since the political process has been stalled since the December 15 parliamentary elections. But Jaafari's exit, while promising, will not necessarily lead to an inclusive government, nor will it resolve the divisions within Iraq's Shiite political bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). The UIA nominated Maliki (BBC), a high-ranking member of the conservative Dawa Party, as Jaafari's replacement candidate. But Maliki is seen by some as too outspoken, too divisive, and too inexperienced to lead a strong central government. Syrian analyst Sami Moubayed says Maliki has all of his predecessor Ibrahim al-Jafaari's weaknesses and none of his strengths (Asia Times). His candidacy is also complicated by his controversial role with Iraq's de-Baathification committee. Kurdish and Sunni Arab parliamentary leaders say they will not block Maliki's nomination.
The Bush administration has blamed the widespread violence in Iraq on the lack of a strong national unity government. Iraq's Shiite leadership, in turn, blames the United States for complicating the process by meddling in its political affairs, as this CFR Background Q&A explains. The problem, writes CFR Adjunct Senior Fellow Vali Nasr, is the Shiites, moderates, and conservatives alike "don't trust America's commitment to protecting their interests." Moreover, followers of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who represent the Shiite center, are feeling their influence threatened by extremist religious elements (WSJ), namely the political bloc of Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr and the pro-Iran Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, argues AEI's Reuel Marc Gerecht. ICG's Joost Hiltermann urges the United States to work more closely with Iran to bring stability to Iraqi politics. This report by the U.S. Institute of Peace looks at Iraq's new leadership.