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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 January 2007, 18:16 GMT
Iraq PM may be bidding for US support
By Peter Greste
BBC News, Baghdad

Policemen carry a poster of Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki (file picture)
PM Maliki would like his premiership to be soon a thing of the past
It has been a rough week for Nouri Maliki.

Like most Iraqis, the prime minister had hoped to spend the traditional end-of-year Eid al-Adha festival resting and preparing for a fresh start to the new year.

According to the original script, his nemesis, Saddam Hussein, would have been executed and effectively cut out of the political landscape.

His followers would have mounted a few mild protests, but once they had died down, the way would have been open for negotiations with more moderate figures in Saddam's outlawed Baath Party.

But in Iraq, the script is almost never followed.

The embarrassment over the conduct of Saddam's execution was bad enough.

But time and again, the official version of events has been undercut, sometimes by those Mr Maliki would have expected some loyalty from.

It has given the impression that there is little discipline within the Iraqi government, and that his Sunni and Kurdish coalition partners are little more than window-dressing for what is essentially a Shia administration.

The result has been condemnation from around the globe - angry protests from the Sunni tribesmen who Saddam championed throughout his rule, and complaints even from his more moderate Shia supporters who said this was not the way a modern democracy behaved.

No wonder Mr Maliki has had enough.

Clever strategy

In an interview to the Wall Street Journal published on Tuesday, he said he only accepted the job out of a sense of duty, and that he would quit before his four-year mandate expired in 2009.

It seems clear that we are fast approaching a pivotal moment in the struggle for control of the country

"I wish it could be done with even before the end of this term," he told the newspaper.

And that was when he spoke to the paper before Christmas - almost a week ahead of the execution.

There may however be a carefully thought-out strategy to Mr Maliki's apparently casual remarks.

They come just ahead of US President George Bush's planned announcement for a new strategy for Iraq.

There is no official word on what that plan will be, but most analysts believe it will include a short-term surge in troop numbers to help crush the violence.

They also argue that any new military plan will be worthless without a sharp shift in political strategies as well.

So perhaps the Iraqi leader's words will be interpreted in Washington as saying "if you don't give me the support I need, I'll quit".

Whatever lies behind his comments, it seems clear that we are fast approaching a pivotal moment in the struggle for control of the country.

Many groups are unhappy with Mr Maliki's leadership

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