Iraqis: It's Taking Too Long To Form A Government
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
In Iraq, politicians love to haggle and ignore deadlines. The general election was five weeks ago and still there's no sign that a government will be formed any time soon. Political leaders there don't seem terribly concerned that so much time has passed. But NPR's Quil Lawrence reports some citizens are.
QUIL LAWRENCE: At the end of a government workday in Baghdad, 2 PM, employees are filing out from the blast walls that protect half a dozen ministries in the center of town. Some of the streets are cordoned off to traffic. Each time a large car bomb attack hits a ministry or embassy, another city block gets closed off for security reasons. Last week it was the Iranian Embassy. A few months earlier, it was the Justice Ministry up the street.
Mr. ALI MOHAMMAD(ph) (Government Clerk): (Foreign language spoken)
LAWRENCE: Ali Mohammad is a government clerk and he's worried about this indefinite period of limbo while the new government forms. Most services are being delivered as quickly, or as slowly, as before. What Mohammad really frets about is security.
Mr. MOHAMMAD: (Foreign language spoken)
LAWRENCE: Political conflicts are stalling everything, he says, and leaving Baghdad open to attacks like the car bombs last week.
In fact, the two men who administer security, the minister of Interior and the minister of Defense, both lost their jobs in the elections and are now lame ducks. The Foreign Ministry has just assigned dozens of new ambassadors, and a major shift in the new government might make some of them lame ducks, as well.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari says the government will continue to function over the next several months.
Minister HOSHYAR ZEBARI (Foreign Ministry): Constitutionally this government is functional. But, as you know, definitely there wouldnt be any major strategic decisions. But on the day-to-day business of security, of service, of governance, I think this government will operated normally.
LAWRENCE: But normally means slowly when it comes to forming coalitions. In fact, the most significant action is taking place outside the country. Iraq's president is, today, in Saudi Arabia, and leaders from the Sunni blocs are in the Turkish capital.
An early gambit by neighboring Iran to form a new government that might be friendly to Tehran seems to have stalled, much to the delight of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Scattered violence, last week, killed more than a hundred people but hasnt derailed the political process, says U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Chris Hill.
Ambassador CHRIS HILL (U.S. Embassy, Iraq): These terrorist crimes are not affecting the political process in the country. If anything, I would hope it might speed it up, but even then, I dont see signs of that. I think it moves on its own track.
LAWRENCE: But not all the parties are agreeing to get on the track. The bloc led by sitting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, announced yesterday, that it still doesnt accept the election results. Maliki's bloc finished a close second but still has a good chance of leading a coalition government.
Mr. HAJIM AL-HASANI (Spokesman, Prime Minister): (Foreign language spoken)
LAWRENCE: Spokesman Hajim al-Hasani said the technical committee of his parliament has determined that 750,000 votes were fraudulent. The prime minister has demanded a recount in five provinces, including Baghdad. His close advisors say that Maliki finds it impossible to believe that he lost, and suspects the vote was rigged for his rival, Ayad al-Allawi.
Iraqi and international observers disagree, most pronounce the election to be largely free and fair. The same observers say its unlikely Iraq will see any sort of recount, and it may be yet another bargaining ploy before the deal start being made.
Four years ago, the process took five months - that would put government formation around August. But this year, August is the Holy Month of Ramadan and everything will shutdown. So the new Iraqi government might be sitting down for the first time in September, which is also the deadline for 45,000 U.S. combat troops to be out of Iraq.
Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Baghdad.
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