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Iraqi government in deepest crisis

US and Iraqi officials are trying to prevent complete disintegration.

By Sam DagherCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 27, 2007



Baghdad

Iraq is in the throes of its worst political crisis since the fall of Saddam Hussein with the new democratic system, based on national consensus among its ethnic and sectarian groups, appearing dangerously close to collapsing, say several politicians and analysts.

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This has brought paralysis to governmental institutions and has left parliament unable to make headway on 18 benchmarks Washington is using to measure progress in Iraq, including legislation on oil revenue sharing and reforming security forces.

And the disconnect between Baghdad and Washington over the urgency for solutions is growing. The Iraqi parliament is set for an August vacation as the Bush administration faces pressure to show progress in time for a September report to Congress.

At the moment, Iraqi politicians are simply trying to keep the government from disintegrating. On Friday, top Iraqi officials were set to convene in the Kurdish north for a crisis summit, in the hopes that talks held outside of Baghdad's politically poisonous atmosphere may bring some resolution to the current political standstill. President Jalal Talabani and his two deputies, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the president of the semiautonomous Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, were set to meet at the Salaheddin summer resort at the end of a difficult week.

On Wednesday, the Iraqi Accordance Front said it pulled out of Mr. Maliki's coalition government, but would return its six cabinet members if the prime minister met a list of demands. The Sunni bloc says it wants, among other things, pardons for detainees not facing specific criminal charges and for all militias to be disbanded.

"We are frankly in the midst of the worst crisis," says Fakhri Karim, a close adviser to Messrs. Barzani and Talabani who also publishes the independent Al Mada newspaper. He says he doubts the Friday meeting will find any resolution because of the new political tussle with the Iraqi Accordance Front.

"Most of the political blocs have failed to operate within the framework of national consensus. They can't even properly formulate their positions and proposals, let alone realize the very serious dangers that surround everyone."

The gravity of the situation was underscored by several officials. "We have a governmental crisis. Our people expect better performance," said Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

And since Saturday, US Ambassador Ryan Crocker has been shuttling between Iraq's top leaders, but an embassy spokesperson said this was not necessarily indicative of a crisis.

"The surge has done well in making a difference in security conditions. But it isn't a light switch for reconciliation; there are no quick fixes to years of bitterness and violence," he said.

Some US military officers have expressed concern privately that Iraq's leadership has failed to take advantage of some of the breathing room offered by the US-led surge against insurgents and militants.

The crisis is also fueling discontent and alienation among Iraqis.

"They are making us regret we ever voted for them ... they should learn something about unity from our soccer team," said an anonymous caller on a state television program on Wednesday after Iraq's victory over South Korea in the Asian Cup semifinals.

Iraq's two rounds of elections in 2005 were historic in many ways. They empowered once-marginalized Shiites and Kurds, but the experience also enshrined and even codified in the new Constitution a consensus-based system that is built on a delicate division of authority along sectarian and ethnic lines.

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