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Iraqi Politicians Still Unable To Form A Government

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Iraqi Politicians Still Unable To Form A Government

Iraq

Iraqi Politicians Still Unable To Form A Government

Iraqi Politicians Still Unable To Form A Government

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It's been more than five months since Iraq's parliamentary election, and prospects for forming a coalition government grow dimmer. Power-sharing talks between the two top vote-getters have broken down. Anthony Shadid, a correspondent for The New York Times, tells Steve Inskeep things have gotten to the point where Iraq's politicians are acknowledging they have failed their people.

(Soundbite of music)

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

The last American combat brigade pulled out of Iraq today. It's a milestone, even though more than 50,000 troops remain in the country. The question now is how, if at all, Iraqis will govern themselves. Months after an election, the various parties have not agreed on a government.

Last week, on this program, departing U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill was optimistic about their talks.

Ambassador CHRISTOPHER HILL (United States Ambassador to Iraq): So the question is, are they getting anywhere? And I must say, in the last couple of weeks, the pace has really quickened. And I think there's a feeling that things may be heading in the right direction.

INSKEEP: That was last week. This week, the talks to which the ambassador referred fell apart.

We're going to talk about the situation with Anthony Shadid who's covered Iraq for years. He is now the New York Times correspondent in Baghdad.

Welcome back to the program.

Mr. ANTHONY SHADID (Journalist, The New York Times): Thank you.

INSKEEP: Are Iraqis any closer to forming a government than they were months ago?

Mr. SHADID: Well, as Ambassador Hill pointed out last week, there was a bit of optimism about a power sharing agreement between the two main parties that came out of the election. As you pointed out, that has failed and we're, in a lot of respects, back to square one. The landscape looks like it did back in March after the election. There's not a lot of sign of serious negotiation, they're no coalitions emerging, and at the same time, there's a very deep vein of disenchantment among the public - toward this paralysis, toward this deadlock and anger over what a lot of people see as clashing services - no electricity, no water, it's often, you know, a lot of the same complaints you've heard for so many years here.

INSKEEP: So, well, given that we've heard the same complaints for so many years, what are the dangers of the situation now?

Mr. SHADID: Well, it's, you know, in a lot of ways it's the summer of discontent here, and it's somewhat reminiscent of 2003. You know, back in 2003, you had popular frustration with a lack of electricity in the searing Baghdad summer, you had an unsettled political landscape and you had uncertain American intentions. And I think in a lot of respects, we're seeing that in 2010; although, it comes at a much different time, you know, as the Americans are pulling back their troops, withdrawing all but 50,000 soldiers in this country.

INSKEEP: Is there a connection Anthony Shadid, between the American partial withdrawal, disengagement from Iraq, and the inability of Iraqis to figure out a governing structure for themselves?

Mr. SHADID: Well, I think Steve, what might be most remarkable about this American withdrawal, is that it marks a moment for American diplomatic influence here. The military situation on the ground probably won't change all that much. But I think it is indicative that the - that American political influence is waning. The American embassy has been unable to break this deadlock, though they put a lot of effort into it. The stalemate continues and I think a lot of Iraqis and even some diplomats, when they speak more privately, will say that we may be waiting weeks and even months before there is any government here.

INSKEEP: You know, I think Anthony Shadid, a year or two ago - or three years ago - somebody might have said that sure, there are horrible, horrible problems in Iraq but Iraqis have begun to figure out the way that eventually they will live with each other together for better or for worse. Is there no longer that feeling?

Mr. SHADID: Well I think, Steve there's a real question here about power and the question of power. How powerful is the prime minister? How powerful is the cabinet? Basically what system is going to arise here that's going to govern this country? Those questions are unanswered. They're at the core of the negotiations. There's a lot of disputes on where to go and how to get there. But I think there's even a deeper question here, and I think this is what's alarming to a lot people who have spent a lot of time here, and that's the almost utter disenchantment among the public for the political elite. There's a real divorce here, between governed and governors, between ruler and ruled. And that, I think, is one of the more unpredictable factors we see going on right now.

INSKEEP: In a few seconds - are people thinking again, as they were a few years ago, about the country falling apart?

Mr. SHADID: You know, there's a lot of worry that the longer this stalemate goes on, the worse it's going to get.

INSKEEP: Anthony Shadid, thanks very much.

Mr. SHADID: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: He's the New York Times correspondent in Baghdad where the last American combat troops - formal combat troops - have left Iraq today.

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