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Stark Challenges Ahead for Iraq’s New Government

Shiites’ power solidified; first decision: ask U.S. troops to stay?

Image: Nouri al-Maliki
Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki waits to submit his new government for approval to the Iraq parliament in Baghdad on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010. Lawmakers unanimously approved it. (Photo credit: Karim Kadim / AP)

By Lara Jakes and Rebecca Santana

Dec. 21, 2010

BAGHDAD — Iraq seated a freely elected government Tuesday after nine months of haggling, bringing together the main ethnic and religious groups in a fragile balance that could make it difficult to rebuild a nation devastated by war as American troops prepare for their final withdrawal.

One of the government’s first priorities will be to decide whether to ask the Obama administration to keep thousands of U.S. soldiers in Iraq after their scheduled departure in December 2011.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s new government solidifies the grip that Shiites have held on political power since Saddam Hussein’s ouster. It leaves open the question of whether the country’s disgruntled Sunni minority will play a meaningful role. …

Doing the work of the government ultimately may prove as hard as putting one together.

Experts said Iraq’s top priority over the next few years is to control its vacillating levels of violence and protect itself from foreign threats. Sandwiched between Shiite majority Iran and Sunni Arab states, Iraq is a Mideast fault line for sectarian tensions and has weak borders. …

Neither Obama nor al-Maliki has shown any enthusiasm for keeping U.S. soldiers in Iraq. More than 4,400 American troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis died in a war that has yet to bring stability and prosperity to this oil-rich Middle Eastern nation. …

Although Iraqiya won two more seats than al-Maliki’s bloc did in the March elections, the prime minister was able to hang onto his job by making admittedly uneasy allies during months of backroom deals. …

Al-Maliki also had to accommodate the hardline Shiite followers of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Maliki and the Sadrists reached an uneasy detente several months ago after years of fighting each other.

A senior Sadrist said his 40-member political coalition was pressured by Iranian officials and Iraq’s top Shiite cleric to fall in line behind al-Maliki. …

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Related reports on this site

Maliki and SadrIn Iraq, ‘Victory’ for Iran
(Nov. 12, 2010)

Muqtada al-Sadr Rises to Power
(Oct. 1, 2010)

Iraq Election Violence Continues
(June 20, 2010)

Pro-Iran Pact Emerges in Iraq (May 5, 2010)

Iraq Election Turmoil (April 26, 2010)

Bloody Easter in Baghdad (April 4, 2010)

Muqtada al-Sadr on the March (March 31, 2010)

Iraq Election Results (March 26, 2010)

Iraq Election Violence (March 8, 2010)

Iraq Election Preview (March 6, 2010)

Iraq Set to Elect Pro-Iran Leader (Feb. 25, 2010)

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — December 21, 2009

Jacob Wetterling Freedom Walk

One year ago today, I reported on the 2009 Jacob’s Freedom Walk for Missing and Abducted Children, a three-day, 60-mile march from Anoka to St. Joseph, Minn., marking the 20th anniversary of the disappearance of Jacob Wetterling and raising awareness for all missing and abducted children.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — December 21, 2008

Iraq: Coalition Troops Forced Out

Two years ago today, on Dec. 21, 2008 I featured Médecins Sans Frontières’ (Doctors Without Borders) annual list of “top 10” humanitarian crises, which in 2008 included Somalia, Myanmar (Burma), eastern Congo, Zimbabwe, global malnutrition, Ethiopia’s Somali region, Pakistan’s northwestern tribal region bordering Afghanistan, Sudan (including Darfur), Iraq, and HIV/TB co-infection.

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