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Coming Weeks Crucial for Iraq's Prime Minister

Political pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is growing in Washington as well as Baghdad. VOA's Margaret Besheer reports from Iraq that the coming weeks could be make or break for the Maliki government.

Last week, the White House issued an interim progress report on Iraq. It found Mr. Maliki's government has made satisfactory progress on only eight of 18 security and political benchmarks set by the U.S. Congress.

Mr. Bush says he still has confidence in Mr. Maliki, but at home political support for the prime minister continues to deteriorate, and talk of a Cabinet re-organization and possibly a no-confidence vote continues to grow.

Iraqi parliament member Safia Taleb al-Suhail, of the Iraqi National List of Iyad Allawi, says it is still unclear what will happen in the coming weeks.

"There are some negotiations taking place between different political groups, including al-Dawa, which is Prime Minister Maliki's group," said al-Suhail. "The change might be having again al-Maliki heading the Cabinet, but the changing of the ministries. Or we might have a fully changed Cabinet. But it depends on the negotiations which are taking place right now in Baghdad. It is not clear yet."

Until recently, Mr. Maliki received strong backing from legislators loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. But in April, six Sadrist ministers quit the Cabinet and since then relations with Mr. Maliki have continued to deteriorate.

A member of the Sadrist bloc in parliament, Bahaa A'raji, says a major Cabinet re-organization is necessary.

"We think the next six weeks are very hot in Baghdad," said A'raji. "Al-Maliki must do something or he must change all the cabinet and he must bring ministers [who are] independent technocrats."

But A'raji says he does not think Maliki will be able to make the necessary changes, and ultimately will be replaced.

Independent Kurdish legislator Mahmoud Othman agrees the prime minister and his government have not been up to the job.

"I think he has failed. This government has failed," said Othman. "Since long ago, not now, really. From the start they were not capable of doing the job. Neither Maliki nor his ministers are capable of doing the job. I think they have failed their test since months, not now."

Othman says the prime minister could be in jeopardy of losing his job beginning in September, when the next progress report on the surge of U.S. forces in Iraq is due in Congress.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh dismisses the possibility of a no-confidence vote against Mr. Maliki, but concedes that a Cabinet re-organization is in the works.

"There is a deficiency in the government. Some of the ministers are not qualified enough to provide the services which Iraqis want," said al-Dabbagh. "That is why the prime minister is thinking of reshuffling, and a major reshuffling, to have better and efficient and intellectual ministers, in order to have better services for Iraqis."

The Iraqi parliament is scheduled to recess for the month of August. Most think a change is likely when the assembly reconvenes in September.