ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Iraqi politicians have other problems on their plate. It's been nearly eight months since political rivals formed a coalition government.
But key positions have yet to be filled and political infighting continues, as we hear from NPR's Kelly McEvers.
KELLY McEVERS: The problems have been mounting for months. Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who's backed by the country's Shiites, and his main rival, Ayad Allawi, who's backed by the Sunnis, simply cannot agree on who should run the ministries of defense and interior.
Over the weekend, Maliki, Allawi, and other key politicians finally sat down to try to hash it all out. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, held a press conference after the meeting. His expression was not optimistic.
President JALAL TALABANI (Iraq): (Foreign language spoken)
McEVERS: We have agreed to reactivate a committee, Talabani said. This committee will prepare a list of proposals that can be discussed in two weeks' time. In other words, it was a discussion about a discussion and it was very low on substance.
The trouble started in March of last year when the parties of Maliki and Allawi nearly tied in parliamentary elections. Then came months of fighting over who had the right to form a government. Once it was clear that Maliki had a large enough coalition in parliament, and that he would become prime minister, the question was what would happen to Allawi. The U.S. pushed Allawi to stay in government, rather than form a traditional opposition, like in most parliamentary systems.
Kurdish member of parliament, Mahmoud Othman, says that was a mistake.
Mr. MAHMOUD OTHMAN: They say, well, let's all make the government together, a partnership government, power-sharing government. And then they enter the government without agreeing on the program, without agreeing on the details. So when they started work, they were not the same, and then problems started. And it is still there (unintelligible).
McEVERS: The problems are not just who will run the Defense and Interior ministries, but the role of a national strategic council that's supposed to be headed by Allawi. The council was proposed by the Americans as a way to have some checks on Maliki's power. But the council has yet to convene.
Now, Othman says, most Iraqis and many American policymakers regret pushing for a power-sharing government. But, Othman says, it's too late to turn back now.
The other problem, he says, is that Americans are so focused on the question of whether some U.S. troops will remain in Iraq next year that for them the political stalemate has been moved to the back burner. In the end, he says, it's the Iraqi people who lose out.
Mr. OTHMAN: The poor citizen is losing very much. He doesn't have enough services. He doesn't have electricity. He doesn't have security. And the leaders just go on meeting and meeting and talk and so on. So, we are in a bad shape, really.
(Soundbite of protest)
McEVERS: Every week, small groups of Iraqis gather in Baghdad's Tahrir Square to air their complaints.
Mr. HAIDAR SAEED: (Foreign language spoken)
McEVERS: Protest organizer Haidar Saeed says if there can't be a real opposition in parliament, then the people should be the opposition.
For every hundred protesters, though, there seem to be a hundred different problems - corruption, electricity shortages, the search for those who went missing during the war, unemployment, the harassment of protesters.
(Soundbite of argument)
McEVERS: Two guys can't even agree on who to blame for all their problems -America or Iran.
We don't need to bring down our government, another guy says, all we want is what our government promised to give us.
Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Baghdad.
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