Bush Urges Rapid Formation of New Iraqi Government

President Bush says his administration is urging Iraqi politicians to form a new, permanent government as quickly as possible after all the votes are counted from last week's elections. But some Middle East specialists say the historic divisions in Iraq are so deep it will likely take significant time before necessary compromises are made that will bring a new government to power.

President Bush says he is optimistic about the future of Iraq after more than 10 million people went to the polls to elect members of the new parliament.

Mr. Bush says it is important to get the process moving forward.

"We got to help the Iraqi government ... to stand up [to create]a government as quickly as possible," said Mr. Bush. "We are urging them - do not delay, move as quickly as you can. Get the political parties, once the vote is completed, get the political parties together and come up with a government."

Mr. Bush says the election does not mean the end to violence in Iraq, but it is the beginning of a constitutional democracy in the heart of the Middle East, an achievement he says is critical to the global war on terror.

Middle Eastern Affairs specialist James Phillips of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation agrees, saying a stable Iraq is vital to American interests.

"From a U.S. point of view it is important that what emerges from Iraq is an ally in the war on terrorism and not a failed state that could become a sanctuary for terrorism, that already is becoming a sanctuary for terrorism," said Mr. Phillips.

When all the ballots are counted from the recent election the 275 members of the new Iraqi parliament will face the daunting task of forming coalitions that will select a government.

The Sunni, Shi'ite, and Kurdish members will have to overcome significant historical animosities and rivalries to agree on a president and prime minister.

Mr. Phillips says many of the issues on the agenda will take a great deal of time to resolve.

"This is a long and complex agenda that will take years to work out and therefore we should not be in a rush to pass judgment on the future of Iraq based merely on these election results," added Mr. Phillips. "In the long run, the balance of power within the legislature is not as important as what the coalitions that comes out of that legislature to form a government do."

After boycotting the January elections to protest the U.S.-led occupation in Iraq, Sunni Arabs voted in large numbers in the latest poll.

United States Institute of Peace senior fellow Phebe Marr says Sunnis, who enjoyed privileged status under Saddam Hussein, will be concerned about the balance of power in the new government.

She says a major worry will be the distribution of revenues from the nation's largest natural resource.

"Oil, on which the constitution has a few things to say but is vague, is this going to be under the central government, is this going to be equally distributed or are these two regions, the Kurds in the north and a possible region in the south, going to sort of siphon off some of that oil revenue, leaving the Sunnis, who do not have oil, without any," she explained.

Sunnis have provided the most support for the violent insurgency that has plagued the country and U.S. officials are hoping Sunni participation in the new government will help produce a coalition that can end the daily attacks.

A Middle Eastern Affairs specialist for the Congressional Research Service, Kenneth Katzman, says a significant reduction in bloodshed will be the major factor in determining whether the political process in Iraq is successful.

"The battlefield will say it all," said Mr. Katzman. "All the elections in the world, all the bargaining in the world, all the talk and slogans to my mind will not signal a true turning point unless and until we see firm indicators from the battlefield that show that the insurgency is abating."

Final results from the vote are expected early next year and bargaining for the top positions in Iraq's government are expected to begin shortly after the new parliament begins work in Baghdad