Seven months after holding general elections, Iraq is finally on the verge of having a government but it took the return of a powerful, anti-American Shiite whose Mahdi Army once battled American forces in Baghdad, Basra and other cities. Moqtada al Sadr appears to have ended his self-exile in Iran to return as part of a deal backing incumbent premier Nouri al Maliki. This is not good news for secular Shiite politicians who tended to be pro-American. It's also unwelcome news to Iraq's Sunni whose former leader, Saddam, had Sadr's father and uncle murdered.
Maliki is still short of the numbers he needs to keep his job but Iraqi Kurds have agreed to support him - if - they get concessions on economic, territorial and political powers which is code for Kirkuk and the city's surrounding oil fields. Maliki basically seems to be willing to sell out to anyone who will help him get control of the requisite number of seats he requires to stay in power.
The Maliki-Sadr deal is a big setback for Washington. Far from bringing peace to the country it restores the moderate-extremist Shiite divide, advances Kurdish autonomy and greatly bolsters Iran's influence in Baghdad's affairs. The Americans heaped praise of their general Petraeus for his surge supposedly bringing peace to Iraq. That may have been a little premature.