Charles Krauthammer has a very informative over view of the political situation in Iraq today.
The main objective of U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who worked miracles in Afghanistan, is to make sure that the Interior Ministry is purged of sectarianism by giving it to some neutral figure, perhaps a secular Sunni with no ties to the Baath Party. Similarly with the Defense Ministry, which controls the army. The army has, by most accounts, handled itself well following the mosque bombing and subsequent riots, and it has acted as a reliably national institution. It is essential that it not get into sectarian hands.
Political success in Iraq rests heavily on these two institutions. Which is why these negotiations, tiresome and endless as they seem, are so important.
The immediate issue is the prime ministership. An internal ballot among the Shiite bloc brought, by a single vote, another term for Jafari. The critical vote putting him over the top was the faction controlled by Moqtada al-Sadr, the radically anti-American and pro-Tehran cleric whose home base is the Shiite slums of Baghdad. For Sadr, a weak and corruption-ridden government that allows conditions to deteriorate would be the perfect prelude to his gaining power.
Not all parts of the Shiite coalition are happy either with Jafari's ineffectiveness or with his political dependence on Sadr. Splits are already appearing in that uneasy alliance. But the most important challenge to Jafari is the Kurds. They are wary of Sadr and unhappy with Jafari, under whom everything -- services, security, trust -- is deteriorating.
Admittedly, part of their calculation is sectarian. This is, after all, Iraq. Jafari has impeded Kurdish claims on Kirkuk and infuriated the Kurds by traveling to Turkey (which opposes all Kurdish ambitions) without their approval and with a traveling party that did not include a single Kurd.
The Kurd-Sunni-secular bloc wants a new prime minister who will establish a national unity government. Because the United States wants precisely the same outcome, the Kurd defection is very good news in a landscape of almost unrelenting bad news. The other good news is a split in the Shiite bloc, with a near-majority that favors a more technocratic prime minister and is chafing at Sadr's influence. Additionally, the Sunni insurgency is in the midst of its own internecine strife between the local ex-Baathists, who are not particularly religious and want power, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's foreign jihadists, for whom killing Shiites combines sport and religion and who care not a whit for the future of the country. There are numerous reports of Sunni tribes declaring war on these foreign jihadists and of firefights between them.
The security situation is grim and the neighboring powers malign. The one hope for success in Iraq is political. The Kurdish defection has produced the current impasse. That impasse has contributed to the mood of despair here at home. But the defection holds open the best possibility for political success: an effective, broad-based national unity government that, during its mandatory four-year term, presides over an American withdrawal.
Our 24 news cycle does not lend itself to negotiations. We tend to confuse spped and success. In other words, if it takes time that in and of itself means failure. The interesting thing is people were willing to give Saddam Hussein an indefinite period of time to comply with explicit UN Resolutions, but building a civil society out of a n impoverished and traumatized culture, well anything less than success in three years is Civil War.