"Iraq's political system is increasingly characterized by peaceful competition and formation of cross-sectarian alliances, although ethnic and sectarian infighting continues, sometimes involving the questionable use of key levers of power and legal institutions. This infighting--and the belief that holding political power may mean the difference between life and death for the various political communities--significantly delayed agreement on a new government that was to be selected following the March 7, 2010, national elections for the Council of Representatives (COR, parliament). With U.S. diplomatic intervention, on November 10, 2010, major ethnic and sectarian factions agreed on a framework for a new government, breaking the long deadlock. Their agreement, under which Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki serves a second term, was implemented in the formation of a broad-based cabinet on December 21, 2010. The participation of all major factions in the new government was considered stabilizing politically and created some political momentum to act on key outstanding legislation crucial to attracting foreign investment, such as national hydrocarbon laws. The new government took action on some long-stalled initiatives, including year-long tensions over Kurdish exports of oil. However, the lack of a broader and sustained focus on governance, or on improving key services, such as electricity, created popular frustration that manifested as protests since February 2011. The protests were possibly inspired by the wave of unrest that has broken out in many other Middle Eastern countries but were not centered on overthrowing the regime or wholesale political change. Some force was used to suppress them, but the major effect was to renew tensions among and within major factions rather than to inspire new attempts to improve government performance."
CRS Report for Congress, RS21968