Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appears to have taken a very significant step towards winning the electoral deadlock that has threatened the country's stability since the parliamentary elections seven months ago. Neither Maliki nor challenger Ayad Allawi secured enough seats for a governing majority of parliament, rendering much of the government incapacitated. However, Maliki has now received the crucial support of Moqtada al-Sadr, an anti-American cleric whose supporters control several seats in parliament but who had opposed Maliki. The announcement comes on the same day that Iraq broke the world record, previously held by the Netherlands, for the longest that a government had been crippled by political stalemate. Here's what the news means.

  • Victory for Anti-American Cleric  The Associated Press's Qassim Abdul-Zahra writes, "Powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr backed Iraq's prime minister to retain power Friday in a move that could speed an end to the country's seven-month political impasse but could also hand al-Sadr's anti-American bloc considerable influence in the next government. ... The prospect of al-Sadr and his allies with a hand in power is likely to unsettle Washington. Al-Sadr is staunchly opposes the U.S. presence in Iraq and his militia poses some of the strongest resistance after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. During the height of Iraq's sectarian bloodshed, al-Sadr loyalists were blamed for taking part in targeted killings of Sunnis and firing rockets and mortars on Baghdad's protected Green Zone."
  • What Has to Happen Next  The New York Times' Steven Lee Myers maps it out. "Several steps remain to establish the new government: Parliament still has to convene, something it has rarely done since spring, and elect a president," he writes. "[Maliki's] State of Law, the Sadrists and their allies command 148 seats in Parliament and need another 15 to win a majority and establish a new government. That support is expected to come from the Kurds." Myers warns about "how quickly alliances can shift in Iraq."
  • No Government Until 2011  The International Crisis Group's Joost Hiltermann tells Reuters, "I don't expect, under current circumstances, that a government will be in place before the end of the year. ... Even if agreement can be found soon on the prime minister, this still leaves other key portfolios to be filled, and then the new leaders would still have to discuss the ruling coalition's governing programme."
  • Proves Neither U.S. Nor Iran Can Make Iraq Their Puppet  Foreign Policy's Michael Wahid Hanna explains, "The torturous course of this process also should lay to rest the notion of a supine Iraq subject to the predatory designs of its neighbors. Iraq is a weak country and will be for years to come; this inevitably will attract unwanted and meddlesome attention from the region and beyond.  While Iran has reaped immense strategic gains from the overthrow of its primary nemesis and its replacement by a friendly government, cheap talk of grand Iranian designs and a defenseless Iraqi puppet no longer should be understood as anything more than political agitprop in connection with the larger and unfolding regional and global conflict over Iran. The variable, and at times conflicting, outside agendas brought to bear on the Iraqis never were able to dictate the course of the government formation process."
  • Not a Great Outcome  Mother Jones' Kevin Drum sighs, "So we get the same old Maliki government, but with a greater role for Muqtada al-Sadr. I can't say this fills me with hope for Iraq's future, but I suppose it fills me with relief that they're at least going to have a government of some kind. Stay tuned."