The Tightrope Walker

Few politicians owe as much to another country's government as Nouri al-Maliki owes to the Bush Administration. In April, strong U.S. backing catapulted al-Maliki into his job as Iraq's Prime Minister after a two-month impasse over the nomination of his predecessor, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Sunni and Kurdish politicians say U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad leaned heavily on them to back al-Maliki. "Khalilzad made it clear there was only one man on Washington's wish list," a senior Kurdish leader told TIME on condition of anonymity. "Al-Maliki cannot have any doubts about why he got the job."

And so it was slightly surprising last week...

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