* US Ambassador to Iraq Hill sees delay in Govt. formation
February 18, 2010 · Posted in NEWS
PUKmedia 18-02-2010 10:45:48

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq said Wednesday it could take months to form a new government after elections next month but insisted the United States was determined to pull all combat troops out of the country by the end of August.

Ambassador Christopher Hill forecast a drawn-out process to seat the next government after the March 7 national vote, and that could mean considerable political turmoil in the country.

The United States still maintains 90,000 troops nearly seven years after the American-led invasion that overthrew Dictator Saddam Hussein. That’s the lowest number of American forces in the country since the invasion.

Under an agreement negotiated under former President George W. Bush, all combat troops are to leave the country by Aug. 31. The remaining support troops are to be gone by the end of 2011.

As in other post-Saddam elections, no single bloc is expected to emerge from the March 7 vote with a majority of the 325 seats in the next legislature. This fractured political landscape would give the bloc with the largest number of seats the mandate to form the next government, a process that involves tortuous and on-again, off-again negotiations with smaller groups over the sharing of Cabinet posts.

Hill also predicted in the two weeks left before the vote that there would be “some tough days, violent days as well, some intemperate days” as the country makes final preparations for the first national vote since 2005.

He said the seating of a new government “could take not just weeks but could be months.”

After that “the true test will not be in the reaction of winners, but how losers accept the results,” Hill said. “The quality of a democracy is determined by the losers.”

On Iran, the ambassador said the United States must “understand the complexities of the shared history of these two countries.”

But he said, “There is no question that Iran has shown a very malevolent face in Iraq. And this means we need to be very mindful of continued malevolent involvement from Iran.”

Hill spoke at the United States Institute of Peace, a think tank. He and Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq, met later Wednesday with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

In a statement, Biden’s office said the men discussed Iraq’s upcoming elections and reaffirmed U.S. support for Iraqi efforts to promote national unity. They also discussed how to develop U.S. partnerships with Iraq in sectors such as the economy and education.

Hill and Odierno also will participate in a meeting on Iraq that Biden will convene Friday, the statement added.