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Iraqi parliament approves new Maliki government

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki leaves some posts unfilled, including the ministers of interior and defense and the minister of state for national security. The parliamentary vote ends a nine-month stalemate.

December 21, 2010|By Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times

This Cabinet resembles the national unity government unveiled after the last national elections in 2006, which was made up of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurdish ministers. That lineup unraveled under the pressure of Iraq's civil war.

However, Maliki begins his second term with his country in far better shape. He is credited with helping stabilize Iraq. Although it remains violent, it is no longer embroiled in an all-out civil war. No longer does Maliki have to consult with the Americans about his governmental decisions.

His ability to come out on top this time is a tribute to his savvy and tenacity. By August, Maliki had created the perception that he was the favored candidate of both Iran and the United States, making it harder for others to push him aside.

Although the United States said it had no preferred candidate, pronouncements in private by U.S. officials that only a Shiite Islamist could be prime minister of this Shiite-majority country were taken by others as implicit support.

Now the undisputed master of Iraqi politics, Maliki will be judged on whether he can keep rivals and allies alike on board. Kurds are demanding a settlement of the status of disputed areas in northern Iraq and want Baghdad to recognize their right to develop oil fields with foreign companies. The Sadr movement, which Maliki once fought, harbors ambitions of leading the country. Iraqiya will try to hold the prime minister to a promise to end a ban on former members of the Baath Party.

Allawi, who has been promised the top post on a council to review government policies, reminded Maliki that breaking promises would be costly. "The Iraqiya slate will show its absolute and full support for the new government," he told the parliament, "but on the other hand, all the agreements should be implemented."

Not all of the signs are good. The diplomatic source predicted that Maliki would do everything in his power to marginalize his rivals, including trying to weaken the parliament with a push against its speaker, Usama Nujaifi, a Sunni who is expected to contest Maliki's will.

"It's in Maliki's interest to have a parliament that doesn't function that well, at least in the short term," said the diplomatic source. He predicted Maliki would try to buy lawmakers' compliance through patronage or by threatening them with dossiers he has compiled on them.

"So he can offer them things or bring out his files. It's sort of Nixonian," the source said.

"It's going to be quite rocky."

Times staff writers Raheem Salman and Salar Jaff contributed to this report.

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