THIS week's planned meeting in Jordan between President Bush and Prime Minister al-Maliki of Iraq is unlikely to be an easy or productive affair. In Baghdad in June, Mr Bush told the prime minister that he had come “to look you in the eye” and determine whether America had a reliable partner. The President likes this kind of instant character assessment; at his first meeting with Mr Putin he said he had looked “deep into his soul” and seen a true Russian patriot. Perhaps he was right then, although without realising the implications of what he had seen; but his judgement that Mr Maliki would prove to be a strong partner of the United States in moving Iraq towards self-reliance has proved to be wrong.

This is not altogether Mr Maliki's fault because the kind of person Mr Bush wants as Iraq's leader probably does not exist. America is looking for a prime minister who will bind together Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds into an effective government of national unity. But these three communities have no wish to work disinterestedly together and each has its own agenda. To make matters worse, there are divisions within the communities; yesterday one of Mr Maliki's principal political supporters, the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr, withdrew members of his party from the government in protest against the prime minister's meeting with Mr Bush. As presently constituted, Iraq is ungovernable and the sooner President Bush recognises this awkward fact the better.