Iraqi leaders have welcomed a tentative deal on a unity government that could end an eight-month political stalemate. A major hurdle appears overcome by including the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, but the potentially contentious division of cabinet posts still looms on the horizon.
Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani cautioned it could still be another month before politicians agree on how to appoint key ministerial positions. But for the moment, simply getting the two main contenders together is being seen as a milestone.
Barzani, the regional president of Iraqi Kurdistan laid out how the top positions were divided, with current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, leading an expanded, second-place alliance, retaining his post, and the Sunni-backed bloc of former prime minister Ayad Alawi taking leadership of parliament.
The largely ceremonial post of the presidency will stay in the hands of Kurdish politicians.
The deal at least nominally includes all three major factions, Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds, in Iraq's deeply divided political scene.
Although Alawi's bloc took the most seats in the March elections, it failed to form a majority coalition, leaving more religious Shi'ite parties and blocs, some with strong anti-American leanings, to forge a formidable alliance.
Sunnis, who had boycotted elections in 2005, had hoped to see greater representation in a new government. But initial enthusiasm over their Iraqiya bloc's electoral success faded as the months of wrangling went on and violence began to fill the political void.
Barzani said Alawi, and by extension Sunnis, would have additional responsibilities as head of a national security council. But the duties, and even the name of the new body, remained vague.
The Kurdish leader conceded the process had been filled with international and regional pressures, but recent progress showed Iraqis have to solve their own problems.
The United States, which has been drawing down its presence in the country, had been eager to see an equitable distribution of power so as to forestall further sectarian violence.
A White House advisor, Anthony Blinken, welcomed the developments as a big step forward.