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World

New Iraqi Government Still Faces ISIS Threat

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel. Iraq's parliament voted in a new government today. This officially means that the controversial prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is out of that office, and Haider al-Abadi is in. U.S. officials have repeatedly said that any effective fight against the militants who call themselves the Islamic State depends on having an effective Iraqi government. But it remains to be seen whether Iraq's new government can bring the country back under control. We're joined now by NPR's Alice Fordham who's in Baghdad. And Alice, explain. What did the parliament do today?

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Well, there was a lot of pomp and circumstance there. There was an orchestra playing the national anthem. There was a stage festooned with white bouquets, verses of the Quran sung - also a lot of pretty bitter arguing and shouting. But basically what happened is that they voted in a partial government. They passed the things that they can agree on. So they approved the new prime minister's governmental plan, which has lots of hopeful things in it about helping displaced people and keeping weapons in the hands of the state, and most of the ministers. So there's now a government with a prime minister, and it can function. But they didn't vote on the crucial defense and interior ministries, most likely because the choices for them was so controversial. And Abadi has promised to fill those positions within the next week.

SIEGEL: Well, what might this new government be able to do that the old Maliki government couldn't do?

FORDHAM: All right, well, that old government was widely held responsible for a lot of the problems in Iraq. Nouri al-Maliki was a highly sectarian leader, a Shiite who created a lot of problems with the Kurdish minority, who have really wrestled with the Baghdad central government. So the hope is that this new government will overcome those divisions. And on the U.S. side, President Obama has said several times that Iraq needs a government which is inclusive, which is to say that it includes representatives from all the ethno-sectarian groups, but also that its policies are fair to all those groups. And in terms of the fight against the Islamic State, the U.S. and others who are banding together to fight the militants are really hoping for a stable and at least somewhat democratic partner.

SIEGEL: Well, that's the hope. Does it appear that this is the kind of government that can live up to that hope?

FORDHAM: Well, today, most of the representatives showed up from the various ethno-sectarian blocks and the minorities, which is a good sign. It wasn't a given that that would happen. And it probably means that they've managed to hash out at least some level of agreement on various issues, although one Kurdish leader read a statement saying that they still have a ton of demands. So I think there's been steps in the right direction. There's modest hope for optimism on that.

SIEGEL: And what kind of reaction has there been to this new government?

FORDHAM: Well, there'll be a degree of relief that it was formed at all. And a lot of people who really hated Nouri al-Maliki and were frightened that he would come back will see this as a step forward, though he will now be the vice president under the new government. It's true that there's a lot of old faces in there, people who've been ministers before. And, you know, this is one of the world's most corrupt and dysfunctional countries, so a lot of people do mistrust this old leadership. And the proposed candidate for interior minister, Hadi al-Amiri, was at the head of a feared militia. So the prospect of him being in control of the police does scare a lot of Sunnis. So there'll be mixed reactions from people.

SIEGEL: Well, does that actually help what seems to be the strategy here that the U.S. is developing against the Islamic State, or ISIS, or ISIL - whatever we want to call it?

FORDHAM: Well, American officials are certainly keen for this first step to happen. Officials have been pushing, behind the scenes, the feuding people to agree and to meet the deadline to form this new government. So as imperfect as it is, it's a step forward to have a partner in Haider al-Abadi, who most Iraqis do seem to think, albeit cautiously, that he can be an improvement on the old regime.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Alice Fordham in Baghdad. Alice, thank you.

FORDHAM: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.