Fractious Iraqi Politics Continue Amid Troop 'Surge'

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An important objective of the "surge" of nearly 30,000 additional United States troops into Iraq was to give the Iraqi government the opportunity to resolve some factional differences, make policy changes and secure a broad-based representative government.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

An important objective of the surge of nearly 30,000 additional U.S. troops into Iraq was to give the Iraqi government the opportunity to resolve some factional differences, make policy changes and secure a broad-based representative government.

People in Congress and generals debated the effect of the troop increase. We want to turn to NPR's Mike Shuster in Iraq to talk about political consequences. He joins us from Baghdad. Michael, thanks for being with us.

MIKE SHUSTER: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: Help us understand the size of the problem that Prime Minister al-Maliki has in trying to bring factions together.

SHUSTER: Well, of course, the size of the problem is enormous. We're finished four years of war, heading for the fifth year of war in Iraq. This has been a weak government ever since it was formed. A year ago, it was very difficult to form the government and bring enough members of parliament to get a majority.

Prime Minister Maliki has always had great difficulty holding this coalition together, trying to negotiate with the Sunnis who have entered the government in the parliament tentatively in the last year but have not embraced the process wholeheartedly, within his own coalition and within the Shiite alliance, which makes the bulk of his support.

There are divisions, and in fact, there are parts of Iraq, especially in the south, where different factions that support Maliki are actually fighting one another. I was in Diwaniya town in the south a couple of weeks ago where that was taking place.

So it is an enormous problem to try to bring about political reconciliation under these circumstances. But the pressure that's coming from the United States on Maliki to do that is enormous. And they're telling him he's got to get it done quickly.

SIMON: How does this play out in some practical issues like oil production or the role of former Baath Party members?

SHUSTER: Those are two of the key issues. There is a new law that has been written, but not submitted to parliament on how to share the revenue from the oil production in Iraq. And it is a fundamental difference between different factions in different parts of Iraq like the Kurds who want to control a kind of a separate account and make separate deals to exploit oil in their region.

And Maliki and many of his backers who want the central government in Baghdad to control the revenue and parcel it out like many other states do with revenue of that size. This issue is going nowhere, so far. A law has been written, but not submitted to parliament.

Similarly, with this so-called reform of debaathification, there's pressure from the United States on Maliki to pass a law that will allow more former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to return to the government because they have a lot of skills to run the government.

And there are certainly many members of Maliki's governing coalition that do not want that. On the Shiite side, there is an enormous resistance, hostility to that idea. Again, the Americans are saying, get this done soon this summer, by this summer. And it's not clear that Maliki can do it.

SIMON: Are there increasing pressures to create what amounts to semi-autonomous zones in different parts of the country with individual devolving powers to central regions?

SHUSTER: Yes, they've - that's certainly true. They've been here from the beginning, Scott. After all, the Kurds have Iraqi Kurdistan, which is enormously autonomous, not just semi-autonomous, but practically independent. And there are some on the Shiite side would like to see that happen in the south as well.

SIMON: Did those debates and, obviously, what can daily(ph) be violent disputes persist with or without U.S. troops on the ground?

SHUSTER: I think that that's certainly true. This society, now without Saddam Hussein and after four years of war, is a deeply divided society. In fact, those here in Iraq who want the American military persons to remain for a while hoped that the strength of the American military might be one of the stabilizing forces.

And it seems that Maliki is in that camp. There are others who want to leave, but regardless, it's hard to imagine that this kind of problem and this kind of violence would be solved quickly, even if the United States left tomorrow.

SIMON: NPR's Mike Shuster in Baghdad. Thanks very much.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Scott.

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