THE SCHEMING had gone on for hours. The Iraqis were from a half dozen different political groupings, some sectarian, some secular. It was Baghdad, it was February 2009 and it was less than a month after Iraq's provincial elections. For our hosts, the purpose of the dinner was to assure me and a colleague that their coalition had enough people on its side to oust Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in a vote of no confidence. It was one of many such meals we attended on that trip with Iraqi friends determined to prevent Maliki from spinning his recent electoral victories into absolute power.
That night our hosts were hoping to convince us of the strength of their position, but as the evening dragged on, assurances were forgotten. The scheming turned desperate. A little longer and any remaining vestige of confidence was gone altogether. The Iraqis began to reveal, to each other as much as to us, the problems they faced. This party boss would only join if he were named defense minister, but he brought too few votes to justify it. Another group would only join if still another party were excluded. But they would not give up on their dream of ousting Maliki, and their machinations turned to ways of getting around those obstacles.