The four month political deadlock, over who will be the new prime minister, has been resolved. A Shia Arab, Jawad al Maliki, is the man. He has 30 days to appoint ministers and get going. The delay has been expensive, as many Sunni factions that are willing to negotiate peace deals, had no one to negotiate with. Until the new government is formed, a lot of people are putting a lot of plans, including reconstruction, on hold. They have to know who they will be dealing with for the next four years.
While Iraqis wait, U.S. troops have been chasing Islamic and Sunni Arab terrorists around. The terrorists have fewer and fewer places to hide. But the constant action has doubled the death rate for American troops (from last month). Several hundred terrorists have been killed or wounded, and several senior al Qaeda and Sunni Arab terrorist leaders were caught. In many ways, the Sunni Arab terrorists are more lethal than the al Qaeda groups. Most of the Sunni Arab groups are remnants of Saddam Hussein's security forces. These fellows have lots of blood on their hands, and fear retribution, either in the form of war crimes trials, or simply revenge from the kin of the many people they killed. Vengeful Kurds and Shia Arabs know exactly who they are looking for, as Saddam's thugs never hid their identities. So the desperate thugs go on killing, in hopes of getting an amnesty deal. But to make a deal, they need someone to deal with. That won't happen until the new government is in place. In the beginning of the year, American commanders held their fire, but then it was decided to keep going with the anti-terrorist operations, as it appeared that the Iraqis were deadlocked on forming a new government. So May will be a bloody month as well.
Meanwhile, members of the pro-Iran Badr militia are showing up in the northern oil city of Kirkuk. That's odd, because Shia Arabs are a small minority up there, where the most numerous groups are Kurds and Sunni Arabs (plus Turks and Iraqi Christians.) In Kirkuk, Kurdish civilians continue to move back to the city, and, with the assistance of Kurdish militias, try to force out Sunni Arabs moved in over the last two decades by Saddam (who forced out the Kurds who are now returning.) American troops and Iraqi police will interfere with blatant attempts at ethnic cleansing, but it goes on anyway, just more slowly, quietly and sort of out of sight. The Kurds want to make Kirkuk, and all its oil (some $30 billion worth a year), part of the Kurdish controlled north. Ultimately, that has to be decided by the Iraqi parliament, and the Kurds are ready to deal on this point. The Sunni Arabs see themselves as the big losers, because the rest of Iraq's oil is in the south, where Shia Arabs are very much the majority, and in control.
While the Kurds lust after Kirkuk, they are being threatened by the Turkish and Iranian armies. That's because of Kurdish support for PKK radical nationalists. The Kurdish government in the north has tolerated the presence of several thousand PKK fighters. The PKK is fighting for "Greater Kurdistan" (including southeast Turkey, northern Iraq, parts of Iran and Syria.) This sort of thing is very popular with most Kurds, thus the Kurdish leaders feel they cannot crack down on the PKK (as the U.S. and Turkey constantly demand). This year, the PKK has been very active just across the border in Turkey and Iran, attacking police and army units. The Turks and Iranians are fighting back. There are already over 2,000 Turkish troops inside Iraq. This sort of presence has been tolerated for years, as long as the Turks were just looking for PKK camps in remote areas. But the Turks have over 50,000 troops on the border, and appear ready to expand their operations in northern Iraq. Meanwhile, to the east. Iranian troops are moving to the border, and Iranian artillery is being fired into Iraq, at areas believed occupied by the PKK.
The Kurdish government in northern Iraq basically tells the PKK, "you're on your own." But if the Turks and Iranians do serious damage to the PKK (by finding and destroying many of the PKK camps, which are often disguised as civilian villages), many of the PKK fighters will just flee to Kurdish government controlled areas and blend into the civilian population (the PKK gunmen don't wear uniforms). This would tempt the Turks to just keep going. The Turkish army has been fighting, and defeating, Kurdish irregulars for centuries. No big deal. Many Turks believe that northern Iraq really belongs to Turkey (it was taken away from defeated Turkey after World War I, so that Turkey would not have access to the newly discovered oil in the area.) Iraq does not want to give up the north, but they cannot defeat Turkish troops. Only the U.S. can. For the moment, the Americans are telling the Turks to stick to hunting PKK, and forget about lost provinces. For the moment, anyway.