New Iraq Government May Hinge on Census Agreement

New Iraq Government May Hinge on Census Agreement

An agreement reached between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Moqtada al-Sadr on Oct. 1 broke the logjam that had held up the formation of an Iraqi government since the March 7 parliamentary elections. Two Shiite Islamist parties boycotted the joint press conference Maliki and Sadr held to announce the deal, but both have emphasized that they remain part of the Shiite-dominated National Alliance (NA) of which Maliki is now formally the candidate for prime minister. Yet while the prospect of another Shiite-dominated government has raised concerns of renewed sectarian conflict, the arrival of senior Kurdish leaders for negotiations in Baghdad points to a more immediate danger: the Arab-Kurd conflict over the national census.

Iraq's demographics are generally known -- roughly 55 percent Shiite, 20 percent to 25 percent Sunni Arab, 15 percent to 20 percent Kurd, plus smaller minority groups. But there has been no official census in decades, and attempts to conduct one have been stymied by political conflict.

Iraq's 2009 budget required a census by Dec. 31, 2009, and the Maliki government initially scheduled one for October 2009. But Maliki, then in the midst of his re-election campaign, simply ignored the deadline. Iraq's 2010 budget re-established the census requirement, with a deadline of Dec. 31, 2010. Maliki set the census for Oct. 24, but on Oct. 3, he postponed it until Dec. 5. Although Maliki cited logistical hurdles, postponing the census until he had completed negotiations with the Kurds added to his leverage over them, and is probably the real reason for the delay.

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