Tendencies of the Dictator

Movement on Baghdad’s political scene has nearly been lost among all the lame-duck U.S. congressional horse-trading. Iraq’s Parliament finally approved a new government, nine months after the country’s elections. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki will remain in power, despite losing at the polls last March. In addition to retaining that post, moreover, al-Maliki appointed himself acting head for the ministries of security as well (that’s the defense, interior and national security departments—something he also did upon ascending to power in 2005). But the New York Times warns that Iraq’s problems are far from over:

The resulting body may be ill suited for solving . . . poor security, lack of an oil policy, and tensions between Arabs and Kurds over some of the coutrny’s most oi-rich territories.”

But on the upside, Iraq reportedly did not experience the expected spike in violence “during the impasse.” And while the Wall Street Journal notes that women were not included in many posts within the government, the Times points out that female lawmakers refused a ministry of women’s affairs position in protest over being marginalized elsewhere. Instead the post went to Iraq’s new foreign minister, Hoshyar al-Zebari, whose double role apparently “drew laughter.”

The Washington Post seizes the moment to run a front-page piece trying to determine if al-Maliki is making a bid to become “strongman.” The verdict (or nonverdict): some contend he is, others (notable among them former–U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and National Interest author Ryan Crocker) say he’s not.

You can find some anecdotal evidence of what Iraqis are thinking about their country’s leaders at the Times’s At War blog.

Things certainly could be worse. In Belarus, newly reelected authoritarian Aleksandr Lukashenko has stomped opponents and their media allies after accusations of widespread fraud.

And the Ivory Coast’s elections didn’t turn out how incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo had hoped, so he decided to take matters into his own hands after the United Nations backed his opponent, Alassane Ouattara. Gbagbo—who has the support of the military, not to mention mercenaries from neighboring Liberia—ordered the nine thousand UN peacekeepers to get out.