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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

It took two-thirds of a year, and many, many false starts, but Iraqis say they really have a government now. At least tentatively. Nobody won a majority in parliament in this year's election. Leading parties have now agreed on a coalition, which parliament may ratify today.

NPR's Kelly McEvers is covering this story from Baghdad.

Hi, Kelly.

KELLY MCEVERS: Hi.

INSKEEP: After all this time, what changes?

MCEVERS: At the top, not a whole lot. What's almost certain to happen is that Nouri al-Maliki, who is a Shiite, will remain the prime minister, and Jalal Talabani, who's a Kurd, will remain the president. The third top post in the country, which is the speaker of parliament, will be given to a Sunni. Again, that's the same as before. What's not yet certain about this new arrangement is who exactly that Sunni will be.

INSKEEP: Now, you've just specified for us somebody from each of the three major groups in Iraq, and the question always has been how, if at all, they're going to share power. Does that mean that they're going to have equal power at the top or anything like it?

MCEVERS: Probably not. I mean the power always rests with the top man in Iraq, and that man is still the prime minister, who is Nouri al-Maliki. The key difference in this government is in this particular election cycle, actually, is that a Sunni bloc, called the Iraqiya Party, actually took the most votes in the election. But despite that, they were unable to form a coalition with other parties to then get a majority of seats in the parliament. So even though they took the most votes, they're actually in third place.

INSKEEP: So what happens to the guy who was the head of that Sunni group, Ayad Allawi?

MCEVERS: Well, he was vying for a top post. I mean he, you know, claiming all along, you know, I took the most votes in the election, I should be the prime minister. Then when it looked like that wasn't going to work out, he and his American supporters were really pushing for him to take the presidency. But the Kurds wouldn't budge on that. The Kurds have long held the presidency and it's a point of prestige for them.

Allawi's case is an interesting one. You know, here's a secular guy - he's actually a Shiite - who has the support of nearly all of the country's Sunnis. The Americans and Iraq Sunni neighbors, like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, had really hoped that he could take some top position to sort of maintain the balance of power between Sunnis and Shiites and, you know, to keep the country from lurching back into sectarian unrest. So now, instead, it looks like his party is going to get the speaker post, and it will also head a newly formed committee called the national strategic council.�No one's exactly sure whether this committee will have any teeth or whether it will be a real check on power. What Allawi himself will decide to do still remains unclear. We're not sure if he's going to take the head of this national security council or not, but many of his fellow party members have signed on to this deal.

INSKEEP: Kelly, what does this mean for peace in the country? By which I'm asking, is there any group that's going to be so unhappy that they would take up arms again?

MCEVERS: Well, that's something we're asking people today and we're fanning out to different provinces - Sunni provinces in the country and Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad, and we're asking them - are they angry about the exclusion of Allawi, and will this force an angry response?

INSKEEP: And let me ask another question, because you alluded to Allawi's U.S. supporters. Some Americans liked the idea of Ayad Allawi as prime minister. That's not going to happen. What does that mean for U.S. influence in Iraq in the next few years?

MCEVERS: Well, a lot of people are now saying that that influence is on the wane. The U.S. was pushing for certain things and didn't get them. Their long-time allies, the Kurds, you know, have sort of stepped aside and said, look, we want to hold on to what we've got and we don't really need you anymore. The party that's more influential now, everyone's saying, is Iran. Iran really pushed for Maliki to stay in a coalition with another Shiite, Muqtada al-Sadr, and it looks like that coalition is the one that's on top.

INSKEEP: NPR's Kelly McEvers reporting from Baghdad.

Kelly, thanks very much.

MCEVERS: Sure.

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