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Stability test for Iraq's makeshift new government

A functioning Iraqi government, however grudgingly constructed, has the potential to lay the foundation for real development.

It has been a long, hard-fought battle for peace in Iraq. The country's long-suffering citizens know this well: their politicians have only just agreed to form a government eight months after an inconclusive election left sectarian blocs vying for power.

The newly brokered deal would see Nouri al Maliki extend his term as prime minister, while Iyad Allawi - whose Iraqiyya party won the majority of parliamentary seats in last year's election - would head a council meant to check the powers of the prime minister's office. The Kurdish bloc, of course, remains a substantive power through Jalal Talabani's presidency, while Moqtada al Sadr's party will invariably figure into top posts as members meet to hash out details in parliament today.

It's not the prettiest of political compromises, but such deals rarely are. Questions inevitably remain in the functional breakdown of power sharing: the role, for instance, Mr al Sadr's bloc will play in the country's security apparatus. There is also a question about the degree of autonomy Kurds will be able to carve out for themselves as their fractious leadership struggles to balance national interests with northern concerns.

Highlighting the differences in goals and views, the Kurdish lawmaker, Mahmoud Othman, said yesterday: "We reached a power-sharing deal, but it is like assembling a car with different parts and hoping it will work."

The outline of the new government may be similar to the old, but concerns about marginalising Sunnis are even greater. Since Saddam Hussein's fall, Sunnis' political integration has been one of the country's toughest challenges. But if it fails, so does the national project.

Despite political differences, however, the one concern shared by all leaders will be security. Attacks on Christians in the past weeks, as well as continued concerns about Iranian influence, have threatened the country's tenuous sovereignty and solidarity.

Extremist factions within the country have been able to capitalise upon the political stalemate to upset Baghdad's fragile peace; it is hoped that the new coalition will bring with it a measure of public security not just along the country's borders, but in its communities as well.

For Iraq's leaders, the road to stability may still be mired in political bickering and bureaucratic red tape. But for the majority of Iraqis, the coalition is a welcome change. A functioning government, however grudgingly constructed, has the potential to lay the foundation for real development. Day-to-day functions that have been stalled - from licence renewals to building permits - can contribute to the country's desperately needed growth.

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