BAGHDAD — Newly reappointed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pledged Saturday to form a cabinet by mid-December, a move that would end months of government lethargy following inconclusive elections in March, and declared that Iraq would not need U.S. troops after their December 2011 withdrawal deadline.
"If we can't form the government within 30 days, the country will slide in directions only God knows about," he said during his first news conference since being formally nominated for the top government post Thursday. Maliki has 30 days from the day of his nomination to assign ministries and present a cabinet slate to parliament for endorsement. If he does not meet this deadline, he risks losing his job. He said Saturday that he expects to announce the government between Dec. 10 and Dec. 15.
The Shiite incumbent also said that failure to form an inclusive administration could prove disastrous for Iraq, but he added, "If anyone decides not to join, we are ready to form it without them."
The Obama administration has been pushing for a government that fairly represents all Iraq's ethnic and religious groups, wanting to ensure stability as U.S. troops prepare to leave and Washington's influence wanes. Under the terms of the bilateral security agreement, Iraq could ask that U.S. forces stay longer than the end of next year — a scenario U.S. officials appear to favor because it would allow them to continue the strong partnership they have developed with Iraqi security forces.
On Saturday, however, Maliki implied that Iraq would be just fine without U.S. military might.
"The Iraqi army, the Iraqi police and the Iraqi security services are capable of controlling the security situation, and therefore the security agreement will stay," he said, referring to the agreed-upon December 2011 withdrawal date. "I do not feel that there is a need for the presence of any other international forces to assist the Iraqis in controlling the security situation."
Maliki's nomination came after a nine-part power-sharing agreement was reached among the four largest elected political blocs. The accord includes a yet-to-be-formed council to be headed by his biggest rival, secular Shiite Ayad Allawi, who remains the biggest question mark in the potentially difficult days ahead.
Allawi has made it clear that if Maliki does not honor the power-sharing agreement to his satisfaction, he will not be part of the government.