Al-Maliki: An Insider Steps into the Limelight

Jawad al-Maliki will take over as Iraq's prime minister. Opposition to acting prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari held up the process of forming a new government for months. Maliki is close to Jaafari, and pledges to continue his policies.

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JACKI LYDEN, host: From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Jacki Lyden.

In Iraq this weekend, a political breakthrough and continued violence. Today, seven Iraqis died in explosions just outside Baghdad's Green Zone, and three American soldiers died when an explosion hit their vehicle in northwest Baghdad. Yesterday, five American soldiers died in bombings in the southern area of the capital.

On the political side, more than four months after elections in December, Iraqi politicians on Saturday took critical steps toward forming a government.

NPR's JJ Sutherland reports on the political scene.

JJ SUTHERLAND reporting:

The breakthrough came after weeks of bitter negotiations. The Shiites hold the most seats in parliament but don't have the two-thirds majority needed to push their choice through.

They had nominated interim Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari to head the next government, but opposition from Sunni and Kurdish groups, as well as some Shiites, stopped the process cold.

After insisting for months he wouldn't step aside, Jaafari finally did this week. In his place, the Shiites nominated Jawad Al-Maliki, and the parliament quickly and easily elected him to the post.

It doesn't seem that the objections to Jaafari were based on politics, but rather on personality. Maliki is a close ally of Jaafari, they're both members of the Shiite Daawa Party, and yesterday Maliki said he would continue Jaafari's policies.

Maliki isn't a well-known public figure, but he has been a critical behind the scenes player. He was involved in the process to purge the government of anyone with ties to the old regime. Maliki also served on the committee that wrote the Iraqi constitution, and negotiated with radical cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr during Sadr's uprising against American forces in 2004.

Ordinary Iraqis don't have a clear picture of who Maliki is, and are skeptical of any government. Muhammad Hussein is a merchant in Baghdad.

Mr. MUHAMMAD HUSSEIN (Merchant): (Through translator) For me the formation shall change nothing, because everything is at a standstill since the fall of the regime until now. All we got was promises and we saw nothing from our government.

SUTHERLAND: Maliki now has 30 days to name a cabinet that will govern the country for the next four years.

JJ Sutherland, NPR News, Baghdad.

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