Patrick Cockburn: There is still no government and violence is increasing

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The Independent Online

The Iraq the US is leaving behind is a country in which violence is increasing and political parties have failed to produce a government six months after parliamentary elections. The Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki proclaimed Iraq's "independence" in a television address yesterday. "Our security forces will take the lead in ensuring security and safeguarding the country and removing all threats that the country has to weather, internally or externally," Mr Maliki said. But such threats have increased with insurgents launching 13 bomb attacks in all parts of Iraq on one day last week. Some 500 people are estimated to have been killed over the last month.

The withdrawal of the last US combat brigades does not directly affect security because American soldiers pulled out of cities and towns in June 2009. And stopping the local branch of al-Qa'ida, which has little connection with Osama bin Laden's organisation, is more a matter of improved intelligence than greater troop numbers. The failure to form a new Iraqi government half a year after the poll on 7 March reflects the deep divisions between the three main communities – Sunni, Shia and Kurd – and a split between the two Shia groupings: the State of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance (INA). Mr Maliki insists on holding on to his job while the Islamic parties of the INA have insisted he must go before they join a coalition.

"Maybe Iraq is finished," said Ghassan Attiyah, a commentator and political scientist. The US has been encouraging the formation of a power-sharing government in which Iyad Allawi, the leader of al-Iraqiya party, most of whose supporters are Sunni, would have an important post.

One solution to the current political stalemate is the formation of a National Security Council with real authority, headed by Mr Allawi. Even if this happened, it is unclear how far Mr Maliki would be willing to cede more than token power. Another scenario would be for the present Shia-Kurdish coalition to continue with the Sunnis only obtaining a minimal share of power.

But the inability of Iraqi parties to reach an agreement is increasing the influence of Iraq's neighbours who give support to different parties and groups. US authority is waning as it pulls out its troops and shows its waning interest in what happens in Iraq. Meanwhile, the importance of Turkey, Iran and other neighbours is growing because Iraqi communities are more frightened of each other than they are of foreign powers. The Iraqi Kurds increasingly look to Ankara as an ally against the Iraqi Arabs and the Sunni, once enemies of the US, came to see American troops as defenders against the Shia.