U.S. Steps Up Pressure On Iraq Stalemate

It's been nearly five months since Iraq's the general elections, but the country's politicians have been unable to agree on much of anything, including who will be the next prime minister. Iraqi officials say the Obama administration is stepping up pressure to end the stalemate.

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In Iraq, the Obama administration is stepping up pressure to end the long political stalemate there. Iraq's neighbor, Iran, is now also using its influence. Nearly five months have passed since Iraqis voted and the country's politicians haven't been able to agree on much of anything, including who will be the next prime minister. NPR's Kelly McEvers reports from Baghdad.

KELLY MCEVERS: It's a scene that's become familiar here in the Iraqi capital since the March 7th elections. The parliament meets and then promptly decides not to meet.

Mr. MOHAMMAD IQBAL (Iraqi Lawmaker): (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: That's lawmaker Mohammad Iqbal, just after parliament's most recent non-session ended on Tuesday. He says politicians should have at least been able to elect a parliament speaker. But the top two vote-getters in the election couldn't overcome their differences. One bloc is supported by Sunnis, the other by Shiites.

Hajim al-Hassani, a spokesman for the leading Shiite party, says it's been difficult for the two to work together.

Mr. HAJIM AL-HASSANI (State of Law Party): The trust between these groups are not yet cemented. It's going to take some time, you know, to bridge the differences between these groups.

MCEVERS: Shiites mistrust Sunnis because of the atrocities committed during the rule of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein. Sunnis mistrust Shiites because of the sectarian fighting from 2006 to 2008, while Shiites were in the power.

The party of the current prime minister, Shiite Nouri al-Maliki, came in second in the elections. Still, Maliki has made no indication that he's willing to step down, says Marina Ottaway, an Iraq analyst at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Ms. MARINA OTTAWAY (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): He has made a lot of statements along the way which were not - perhaps not real threats, but certainly reminders that he's also the head of the Armed Services. In other words, trying to tell people from the beginning: I am the big man, I'm here, I'm controlling power, and I'm going to stay in that position.

MCEVERS: Ottaway says if Maliki holds on to this position, Iraq will move away from a real democracy and start to look like other Arab countries, where sham elections merely reaffirm a long-time leader's grip on power.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: One player who could change all that is Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric whose supporters won dozens of seats in the election. He recently emerged from nearly two years of self-imposed exile in Iran.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Lately, Sadr has been appearing on Iraqi TV and in meetings around the region hosted by Iran, Syria and Turkey. Analysts say Shiite-dominated Iran wants Sadr to support a super Shiite block with enough seats to form a government and keep Shiites in power in Iraq. Sadr says he'll do that if Maliki is out and a new Shiite candidate is in.

Either way, the U.S. says the Iraqi government should include all groups: Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

Iraqi officials tell NPR that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have warned that if Iraq doesn't form a government soon, it will have a negative effect on an upcoming U.N. Security Council meeting to determine whether Iraq remains under U.N. sanctions known as Chapter VII.

Here's Kurdish member of parliament Mahmoud Othman.

Mr. MAHMOUD OTHMAN (Iraqi Parliamentarian): They didn't say that openly, but in their phone calls and in their contacts they have told the Iraqis they better have a solution before the session of the United Nations for that - they will have, they will go forward towards getting out of Chapter VII.

MCEVERS: The U.N. meeting is set for next week.

Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Baghdad.


And now to another war zone, Afghanistan. When those secret documents about the Afghan war were released last weekend, President Hamid Karzai said they proved that Pakistan was assisting the Taliban. But today he said the release of the documents was irresponsible. Karzai said he was concerned because the papers named Afghan citizens who had cooperated with the NATO forces, putting their lives in danger.

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