As Iraqi Political Crisis Deepens, Kurds See Role as Kingmaker

Reporter Jane Arraf calls the situation in Baghdad, "the biggest political crisis since Saddam Hussein was toppled."

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Arraf tells host Marco Werman, "The politicians who are supposed to be leading this country cannot sit down in the same room and have a conversation."

Arraf is in Erbil, in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. In recent days, she spoke with Tariq al-Hashemi, Iraq's Sunni Vice President. Hashemi fled into exile in Kurdistan several weeks ago. That was after Iraq's government issued an arrest warrant, charging Hashemi with running death squads.

"He said the last time he really spoke to the prime minister was a year ago. They've been communicating through text messages," she says. "And arrest warrants."

Iraq is run by a coalition government, engineered in large part by Washington. Thus far the Kurds, notes Arraf, have been the "kingmakers."

"They're being looked at here as the people who could possibly solve this. But there are so many missing pieces, no one is entirely sure it can be solved," Arraf notes.

She says the Kurds would like to convene a conference that would bring together the Kurdish president, along with Iraq's Prime Minister, the head of the Sunni- backed party, and possibly Shia leader Muqtada al- Sadr.

Arraf says the President of Kurdistan Region, Masoud Al Barzani, believes that he actually handed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki his job.

"The Kurds backed al-Maliki when he didn't have enough support to form a government, and now Barzani feels that al-Maliki has betrayed him. And a lot of people feel that. So what we've got really is a Prime Minister fighting for his job, a very polarized political system, and really not very much at all getting done in the country."