By Ray Fleming

Off and on, through yesterday morning and afternoon, there were hopes that Iraq might be close to getting a government after eight months of fruitless negotiation following the election in March that gave the incumbent prime minister al-Maliki 89 parliamentary seats and his principal opponent Iyad Allawi 91 seats. In a parliament of 325 members the best solution all along has been a coalition involving both Allawi and al-Maliki and their parties but this has been difficult to bring about for a whole raft of reasons, some political, some religious, some personal. Yesterday, however, the word was that Allawi was willing to forgo his hopes of becoming prime minister in exchange for the chairmanship of a new Security Council designed to provide a counterweight to al-Maliki as prime minister, especially on security matters; the office of Foreign Minister was also thought to have been offered to Allawi. All day there were conflicting reports about Allawi's readiness to take this new role unless the powers of the Security Council are shown to be adequate and set in concrete.

Even if this new deal goes through -- probably with strong backing from the United States -- it will be at least a month before parliamentary approval is obtained and the new government takes office. At its first major test Iraq's new Constitution, packed with checks and balances, has proved to be difficult to work. Iraq now needs a functioning government very urgently.

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