In March, Iraqis went to the polls to elect a new government. Four months later there's still no government. No party is able to form a working coalition. Worse still, many observers believe there's no hope of the impasse breaking before September.
This means America's combat mission in Iraq could wrap up while the country is effectively rudderless. Iyad Allawi notionally "won" the election, winning two more seats than Maliki, with the Iraq National Alliance placing third.
Although he's a secular Shiite, Allawi's Iraqiya coalition took first place thanks to a lot of Sunni support. Maliki's State of Law bloc and the INA are Shiite religious parties. Maliki's people believe he should retain power but Allawi isn't ready to accept that sort of coalition. Meanwhile the third-place INA is willing to form an all-Shiite coalition but only if Maliki is ousted. It's a standoff.
The situation is becoming predictably more violent in Iraq. Deaths in July hit 535, up from 284 the previous month. The violence is expected to worsen the longer the country goes without a government.
With the end of America's combat mission, the US is drawing down 15,000 troops. That will leave 50,000 GIs who are tasked with training Iraqi forces and protecting American installations. An agreement between Washington and Baghdad calls for those remaining troops to leave by the end of 2011.
There are some who think an outright civil war will break out when the last Americans leave, if not sooner. Among those most worried are the Kurds. The main conflict may be between the Sunni and Shia to the south but they're still all Arabs, not Kurds. Arab Iraq is none too happy with Kurdish claims to Kirkuk and its nearby oil fields.
If the Iraqis are having this much difficulty simply forming a government, how will they ever be able to put down a civil war? The situation begs the question of just what has America achieved in Iraq?