Let Iraq's new government show what it can do

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The Independent Online

Two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq is finally starting to have something akin to an elected administration. It is not perfect. The elections which produced the interim parliament were boycotted by the Sunni minority. Their negligible representation in the organs of power will do little to stem the continuing insurgency and could threaten trouble for the future. Some resent what they say has been a "sectarian carve-up" and a "fix".

But it is better than it might have been. After 10 weeks of haggling, Iraq has a Kurdish president - Jalal Talabani, who is the only non-Arab head of state of a majority Arab country. His two deputies are a Shia and a Sunni. The prime minister, Ibrahim Jaafari, is a Shia. In saying, as he did after being sworn in last week, that there had to be continued dialogue to complete a full understanding with the Sunni Arabs, Mr Talabani showed that he at least understood the need not to leave the Sunnis out of the equation.

Agreement on these appointments means that, for the time being, Iraq has preserved its territorial integrity and maintained its identity as a multi-ethnic state. It has also brought to power the two ethnic groups repressed by Saddam Hussein. So long as there is a Kurdish president, it is likely that the country's Kurds will retain the large degree of autonomy they currently enjoy and stop short of demanding a separate state. This should be good for Iraq; it will certainly be a source of relief to its neighbours, especially to Turkey.

It may have been coincidence that the weeks of deadlock over the nomination of the president and prime minister were eventually broken on the eve of the second anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein. That anniversary, however, pointed up an unfortunate truth. The Americans may have toppled Iraq's dictator, but they have not won either the gratitude or affection of Iraqis. On the contrary, the anniversary was marked in Baghdad with one of the biggest anti-US demonstrations the capital has seen.

This ought to be the cue. If Iraq's embryonic administration shows it can do its job, it should be left to do so, and the forces of occupation should be given a date for withdrawal.