US-Iraq Relations Threatened by Iraq's Political Quarrels

Article excerpt

Iraq's postelection process of forming a new government has been troubled and drawn-out. Now, American officials are openly questioning the impact on US-Iraq relations.

The Obama administration is showing growing nervousness as Iraq's postelection process of forming a new government turns out to be even more troubled and drawn-out than anticipated. After weeks of backstage prodding, US officials are now openly questioning the impact on US-Iraq relations - and in particular on plans to pull out all US combat forces this summer.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was a close second-place finisher in March 7 balloting, has employed what appear to be ever- more desperate measures to hang on to his post. In Washington, worries are mounting that Iraq will be saddled with a tainted government.

"They're increasingly afraid of ending up with another Karzai- like mess," says Wayne White, a former State Department analyst on Iraq, referring to last year's reelection of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. That election was widely deemed to have been stolen.

"There was always concern over time and the impact a drawn-out process of naming [an Iraqi] government could have," Mr. White adds. "But the prospect of a government tainted by illegitimacy is quickly becoming a much larger problem."

In a carefully worded admonition to the Iraqi government Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reminded Iraqi officials that "transparency and due process" are essential elements of an election and government-forming process that attains the confidence of the public. She called on Iraq's leaders to "set aside their differences" and "to form quickly a government that is inclusive and represents the will of all Iraqis."

Secretary Clinton's statement followed concerns expressed earlier this week in Baghdad by US Ambassador Christopher Hill. It was time, he said, that Iraqi politicians "got down to business" and formed a government so that Iraq can "move ahead."

Clinton's communique contained one slightly veiled message: that the "sovereign" future sought by Iraq - a future free from a sizable foreign-troop presence - becomes more problematic in the aftermath of an opaque and questionable postelection political process.

Some Iraq analysts, in particular former officials from the Bush administration, believe that if Iraq remains politically fragile, the United States will have to consider extending the stay of some combat forces beyond President Obama's August deadline for withdrawal. …

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