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Iraq's New Government Faces Enormous Challenges

The nomination of a new Shi’a prime minister has broken a four-month deadlock over the formation of a new government in Iraq. But Nouri al-Maliki, formerly known as Jawad al-Maliki, will face enormous challenges.

Iraqi Kurdish journalist Hiwa Osman, who reports from Baghdad, said he welcomes the selection of Mr. al-Maliki to replace former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari, who was vehemently opposed by both the Iraqi Kurds and the minority Sunni Arabs. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Osman said everyone in Iraq was relieved and some people even joked, “We have a pope.”

Nouri al-Maliki, a senior member of the coalition of Shi’a parties that holds the largest number of seats in Iraq’s parliament, has the reputation of being an experienced political operator. A former exile, al-Mr. Maliki faces the task of mending a nation shattered by decades of war, dictatorship, and sectarian rivalry. According to Hiwa Osman, daunting challenges face the new prime minister – restoring security, establishing a government of national unity, rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure, and improving the economic situation.

Laith Kubba, Iraqi journalist and former spokesperson for the sidelined previous nominee, Ibrahim al- Jafari, said Mr. al-Maliki has earned a reputation as a hardliner on issues of security. But convincing the other religious and ethnic blocs to sign on to his vision of national unity will be key to eliminating violence in Iraq. Mr. Kubba said the new Shi’a prime minister will have to build “block by block” the critical state institutions, particularly Defense and Interior, ministries that are currently polarized by sectarian policies. Laith Kubba noted that, at a time when oil is $75 a barrel, Iraqis do not understand why they can’t drink clean water or buy gas at their own gas stations.

London-based Iranian journalist Ali-Reza Nourizadeh agreed with Mr. Kubba that resolving the struggle over Iraq’s ministries of Interior and Defense are key to stability in Iraq. Moreover, he said, the nominees to those key cabinet posts would determine whether or not neighboring Iran might try to stir up trouble.

Another challenge to the new government was posed earlier this week by the release of an audio-tape of Osama bin Laden, once again raising questions about al-Qaida’s role in the Iraqi insurgency and especially the influence of Abu Masab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian leader of al-Qaida in Iraq.

This week, a man identifying himself as al-Zarqawi appeared in a video, calling the U.S. effort in Iraq a “crusader” campaign and denouncing efforts to form a new Iraqi government. Laith Kubba said U.S. support is critical at this time. And he suggested that Washington could play a useful role in winning the cooperation of Iraq’s neighbors – especially Turkey and Saudi Arabia – to help in the rebuilding process.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.