It had been eight long months since Iraqis cast their ballots in March elections. But finally on Thursday, the country's leaders managed to put aside their differences and form a new government.
"Today is a day of victory, the victory of the free Iraqi will," said Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish leader who was elected on Thursday by parliament to a second term as the country's president.
The power-sharing agreement foresees Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki staying on for a second term. Significant posts, however, have been given to the Sunni-backed party of Ayad Allawi, which narrowly won the most seats in the March 7 vote but which fell shy of a majority. Indeed, the new government was made possible when Allawi backed down from his insistence that he be given the prime minister position.
Allawi will now head up a new council created to oversee domestic security and foreign policy issues. Another member of his party, Osama al-Nujaifi, has been chosen as speaker of parliament.
Still, while there was widespread relief that the country had put an end to months of bickering, optimism was in short supply. Indeed, by the time Talabani addressed parliament on Thursday following his re-election, 57 Sunni lawmakers had already walked out, showing that the power-sharing deal is fragile at best. The Sunnis -- less numerous in Iraq than Maliki's Shiite backers and under-represented in the country's power structures since the US invasion -- have already begun accusing Maliki of having broken promises made during negotiations.
Allawi's followers have demanded that de-Baathification rules be repealed, measures passed shortly after the US invasion to prevent former dictator Saddam Hussein's primarily Sunni followers from occupying positions of power. The rules remain in place and are a hindrance to some would-be parliamentarians in Allawi's party.
Just what the deal might mean for Iraqi security remains to be seen. The US had been hoping for a greater Sunni role, in part to thwart attempts by largely Shiite Iran to gain influence in Iraq. Instead, the Shiite Maliki has been returned to his post -- largely as a result of support from the anti-US cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Still, with sectarian violence having flared in Iraq in recent weeks, the deal brought to fruition on Thursday is widely seen as being better than no deal at all. German commentators take a look at the new Iraqi government on Friday.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The Shiite-Sunni power struggle has now been transplanted into the government and potentially institutionalized. Maliki and Allawi are bound together in deep, personal enmity for one another. That will make governing that much more difficult."
"The core question is now how much decision-making authority Allawi's new council will have and thus how much he will be able to check the prime minister's extensive power. Allawi must now grab control of those parts of Iraqi security forces that Maliki took under his wing during his first term. Those who remember just how ruthless the prime minister was will not be overcome by optimism."
"The Iraqi democracy, introduced forcefully by the Americans in 2003, doesn't quite work -- yet. Voters have demonstrated their sense of duty, but their representatives have abused their trust. The new government of national unity now faces a test of character -- and one should not bet on a positive outcome."
The center-right daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"One is tempted to shout 'Eureka!' That Iraq is now finally getting a government eight months after the elections is primarily thanks to the pragmatism shown by the secular/Sunni group (led by Allawi)."
"The American government, which has already withdrawn its combat troops, has been pressuring Iraq recently to move forward with assembling its government. Given the worsening security situation, it is badly needed. Terrorist attacks have once again increased, particularly against Shiites and Christians. Establishing security in the country will be one of the most pressing tasks of the new government."
The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:
"Maliki can be proud of himself. He was merciless with his challenger Allawi and thus with the Sunnis. Allawi barely eked out a victory against Maliki in the elections in March, but Maliki never even considered giving up his position to the election victor. Instead, he played for time: He insisted on a recount of some of the ballots; he fashioned an alliance with a second Shiite bloc and declared that he was, in fact, the true victor; he got the Iranians on his side; and he secured the support of the Kurds. For a politician who was nothing but a compromise candidate four years ago, it is an impressive victory. For democracy in Iraq, however, it is extremely damaging. Maliki has demonstrated that, even in the 'new Iraq,' rulers cling to power no matter what the voters decide."
The left-leaning daily Berliner Zeitung writes:
"There are two possible directions for the new coalition of Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis which has now been agreed on: It could lead the country out of its frustrating standstill; or it could succumb to the very real danger of breaking apart. The new balance of power is, for the moment, more of a promise than a reality. Nobody knows if the real election victor (Allawi) will ultimately be satisfied with the power he has been given."
"The standstill, in any case, will not end immediately with the establishment of a government. The power blocks will busy themselves for months with securing influence. That isn't all bad, however. As long as they wrestle among themselves, the danger of renewed sectarian violence, while not eliminated, is at least limited."
-- Charles Hawley
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