After eight months of stalemate, Iraq has a government, sort of. The incumbent secularist Shia prime minister Nuri al Maliki made a deal with his arch enemies, the followers of pro-Iran, Islamic conservative Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr. With less than half as many parliament seats (40 versus 89, out of 325) as Maliki, the Sadrists provide enough votes, with other small parties, to form a government. But Maliki and Sadr have different visions about what Iraq should be. Maliki wants a secular democracy. Sadr wants a religious dictatorship.
Former prime minister Iyad Allawi (whose Iraqiya party has a small plurality, of two votes, in parliament) insisted that the constitution gave only him the right to form a government. But since Maliki gathered a larger coalition, and in the interest of the country, Allawi is reluctantly allowing the Maliki coalition to govern. Allawi had discussed a coalition with Sadr, but these religious conservatives demanded too much power, at least as far as he was concerned. Although Maliki has been willing to work with Sadr and Iran in the past, the fact that Sadr began reforming his private army earlier this year, was cause for alarm.
It was believed that Maliki was too pro-Shia and too willing to work with Shia radicals and Iran. Allawi was seen as too secular and too willing to work with the hated Sunni Arab minority (who have done most of the killing in the last sixty years). But both men are very much Iraq nationalists, and each believed only they can lead Iraq to a better future. Maliki has broad support among Shia (who are over 60 percent of the population), Allawi has the rest (mainly the Kurds and Sunni Arabs), as well as the large number of secular Shia. The Kurds are united, independent minded, and control about 18 percent of the seats in parliament. The Kurds want more autonomy and control over oil in their territory. This offends the Arabs, who are 80 percent of the population. Iraqis fear that the country will turn into just another Arab dictatorship, where the inability to compromise eventually leads to one man, or one party, rule, maintained by terror and force. The new government made deals with Sunni Arab and Shia Arab extremist ones. For the moment, there is less violence, as the radicals figure out their next move (who to attack). The criminal gangs, especially the Sunni Arab ones, have the most firepower, and many of these gangsters support Islamic terrorist groups. In fact, many terrorists moonlight as gangsters, or vice-versa. Most terrorist groups now get the majority of their essential cash support from criminal activities (robbery and kidnapping being the big earners).
There are still bombs going off, most of them detonated by various Sunni Arab terrorist groups (including a much reduced, by over 90 percent, al Qaeda contingent). Some of the bombs are directed at Shia, especially pilgrims from Iran. These attacks are carried out to intimidate the Shia majority. Many in the Sunni Arab minority believe that they will eventually take control of the government. Most of these Sunnis understand that this may not happen for a decade or more. But the more radical Sunnis Arabs believe terrorism will speed up the process. Most Sunni Arabs believe this may instead trigger a backlash that will drive all the Sunni Arabs out of Iraq. This sort of expulsion is common in the region, but that does not seem to bother fanatic ethnic/religious groups. Some of the Sunni Arabs have been persuaded to lay off the Shia Arabs and go after Iraqi Christians. This group has been a minority for over a thousand years (since the conquest of the area by Moslem armies), and as it became easier to migrate to the West, more and more Arab Christians have been fleeing the unrelenting hostility they receive from Islamic conservatives. Sometimes this hostility turns murderous, as it has in Iraq of late.
The other goal of the violence is to terrorize police in Sunni Arab areas. If the cops do not bother the Sunni terror groups, these Sunni fanatics will stop trying to kill police with bombs and ambushes. This serves to assist another Sunni Arab specialty; organized crime. While there are also Shia and Kurd gangs, the Sunni Arab ones are the most powerful and capable. That was the case even when Sunni Arab idol Saddam Hussein was running things. The Sunni Arabs may have lost control of the government, but not their status as the most successful (or at least active) criminals and terrorists in the country. Meanwhile, the Sunni Arabs have 60 seats in the parliament, although most of these politicians are fighting to allow three prominent Saddam supporters openly engage in politics once more. This is anathema to the Kurds and Shia Arabs (and many Sunni Arabs as well) who suffered under Saddam. But to many Sunni Arabs, in and out of Iraq, Saddam is still a hero.
November 7, 2010: Rival political groups have hammered out a compromise so that a new government can be formed. It will take another month or so, at least, for everyone to agree on new ministerial appointments.