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Iraq’s Absent Leadership

Author: Lionel Beehner
May 17, 2006

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Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki has reportedly finalized his cabinet, and Iraq's parliament is expected to convene May 20 to vote on the candidates nominated (WashPost). Iraq's constitution gives Maliki thirty days, or until May 22, to name a cabinet or his nomination is rescinded and the process to select a prime minister begins anew. Few outside the ranks of Iraq's insurgency relish that prospect (al-Manar TV).

Iraq's political process has been beset by sectarian infighting, much of it within the ruling Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). Indeed, Fadhila, one of the alliance's seven major parties, recently announced its withdrawal from the political bloc. Maliki's coalition seems at a loss for qualified candidates for the powerful interior and defense posts who are acceptable to Kurds, Sunnis, and secular Shiites alike, and without ties to insurgents or sectarian militias. Some speculate that Maliki, to meet the deadline to form a cabinet, may submit an incomplete roster and fill the interior and defense positions at a later date (Daily Star).

Without a permanent government in place, Iraq's security situation continues to worsen, eroding faith among Iraqis in their government's ability to protect them. Local militias are pouring into this security vacuum, while insurgents continue their suicide-bombing campaigns almost unobstructed. Last month, more than 1,000 bodies turned up in Baghdad's morgues. U.S. deaths in April numbered seventy-six, reversing a four-month downward trend in the casualty count. Even soccer fields, once places of refuge, have been wracked by violence (LAT).

Some experts are beginning to wonder aloud whether the formation of a national-unity government, at least in the short run, will have any real effect on Iraq's security situation on the ground. "They simply don't control anything anymore," says Kenneth Katzman of the Congressional Research Service, in this new CFR Background Q&A. Journalist Nir Rosen, speaking recently at CFR, puts it more bluntly: "I think the events in the Green Zone have always been irrelevant for what's really going on in Iraq and more of a show for us back here perhaps."

President Bush, facing falling approval ratings at home, is hungry for any signs of success in Iraq. The lack of political progress and the relentless swirl of violence have helped set U.S. public opinion against the war. Bush's own standing, measured by recent polls, has suffered as a result. For even as escalating gas prices and control of the nation's borders weigh on Americans' minds, pollsters say Iraq is at the root of what turned most Americans against the president's policies (ABCNews). As CFR Director of Studies James Lindsay tells cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman, "Once you start tossing out phrases like 'quagmire,' 'lengthy occupation,' 'we can't cut and run,' people understandably become less positive about the decision to get into the war."

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