Washington pushes power-sharing for Iraq

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MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. The US mission in Iraq changed 10 days ago. Combat troops left and remaining US forces are charged with helping Iraq take responsibility for its own security. But one thing hasn't changed in Iraq. And that's the fact that six months after parliamentary elections, Iraqi politicians still can't agree on a new government. New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid has been covering the story. He says there's a push on now to break the logjam, and the pressure is coming from two distinct corners.

ANTHONY SHADID: One option is supported by the United States government and that envisions an alliance between Prime Minister Maliki and his main secular rival, a man named Ayad Allawi. The other option out there is the proposal the Iranians are pushing and that would join Mr. Maliki with his Shiite rivals.

WERMAN: I mean it's interesting the Iranians and the US are both trying to pitch power-sharing deals to Iraq. What dynamic does that suddenly create?

SHADID: I think both see themselves as being able to work with Mr. Maliki, with the current Prime Minister. He is somebody that while he irritates each of them at times, he's someone they can get along with and they can deal with. I think especially for the Iranians they don't see an alternative to Mr. Maliki. It is going to say something about the government that takes shape though. Either formula you're going to see Mr. Maliki with far less power than he had. It's going to be a government where his authority is curbed. In the American vision there's going to be a national security council that has a lot of power that [INDISCERNIBLE] with Mr. Maliki's authority. If it's the Iranian proposal, his Shiite partners again are going to try to curb his power as much as possible. There's a fear out there that Mr. Maliki has in him [SOUNDS LIKE] an authoritarian streak that could leave a stamp on Iraqi politics for years to come.

WERMAN: Whenever we hear power sharing we think the Kenya elections, the Zimbabwe elections, and the implication is that it's not an ideal outcome. A sort of shaky compromise that can forecast more trouble to come. Would any power-sharing plan for Iraq right now essentially be a shaky compromise?

SHADID: I think that's a great question. I think whatever government you see coming out of this is going to be a weak government. It's going to be a weak government that's going to have to tackle some of the most nagging and pressing issues that face Iraq. Disputed boundaries between Kurds and Arabs to an oil law that is seen as crucial to bring in any kind of prosperity to Iraq in the years ahead. What you have right now is politics in Iraq that are motivated by fear. In every faction in the country has this deep-seated fear that if it's not in the government, their existence is going to be threatened. That there is no sense of an opposition or a legitimate opposition or opposition that can play an important role in Iraqi politics. And that's why these negotiations are so intense and so [INDISCERNIBLE] in a certain way.

WERMAN: What is at stake for the US if something doesn't get sorted out with Iraq's civilian government?

SHADID: It's already embarrassing, the American government at this point, that it's gone on as long as it has. We're talking about six months here and the Americans they expected to have a government far before this August 31 deadline that they had set up as a [INDISCERNIBLE] point in this seven-year experience there. So there is the issue of embarrassment. There's also the issue of growing frustration in Iraq. This [SOUNDS LIKE] can kind of cross the board where you think you're reaching a point where you may have the entire political system discredited. It's always struck me in [INDISCERNIBLE] in Iraq that the country's still a lot like it did in 2003 in some respects. And I don't want to overstate that comparison. Back in 2003, as you have now, a country that's anxious, a country that has an unclear political future. There's a question about American intentions and there's a lot of ambiguity covering almost everything that goes on in the country today. That's not to mention, of course, more practical issues. Electricity, water, sewage, lack of housing for education. It's an unsettled place right now and it's probably going to stay that way for a little while.

WERMAN: Anthony Shadid, foreign correspondent for the New York Times, speaking with us from Lebanon. Thank you, Anthony.

SHADID: My pleasure.