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TROUBLING DELAY IN IRAQ
FAILURE TO FORM A GOVERNMENT MAY BE GIVING RISE TO INCREASE IN VIOLENCE

American pressure on Iraqi leaders to speed up the business of self-government is timely. Iraq must find its own political way, but the bickering in Baghdad is encouraging insurgency in the countryside.

The bombings and other attacks that had dropped dramatically in numbers and effect after the surprisingly successful national elections in late January are returning in force now, partly because, some observers believe, factions have been unable to put together a working government. Iraqi control of Iraq will remain fragmented and the streets will remain dangerous until a government is formed. More delay means more time for splits along sectarian or ethnic lines, a real and continuing threat to workable democracy in Iraq.

Unless Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari can form a governing coalition by May 7, the interim constitution requires him to step down. Kurdish factions who are needed for that coalition, but fear al-Jaafari is too Islamist, might like to see that happen.

Other factions, including the party of departing prime minister Ayad Allawi -- a secular Shiite who is seen by more religious Shiites as too accommodating to Sunni Muslims -- demand control of key ministries. And while President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, earlier this month offered a broad amnesty to insurgents, a major Shiite political bloc later announced a purge of former Baathist Party members from military and security forces -- a move U.S. and Iraqi officials fear could drive experienced fighters from the government to the insurgency.

It is no surprise that insurgents, seeing those growing fractures, should seek to widen them even more with increased violence. And it's no surprise that many of the Sunni-dominated insurgency's attacks should target Shiites, in hopes of fomenting civil war.

Despite all that, analysts still see hope in Iraq. Many cite the increasing willingness of Iraqis to point security forces toward insurgents, a factor in the recent arrest, among others, of Iraqis accused of downing a helicopter. And Iraqis, despite attacks targeting Iraqis working for the new government, still want police and military jobs. A report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies shows the number of Iraqi police has risen from 26,000 to 55,000 in the past six months, and security forces have gone from one deployable battalion last July to 27 battalions in March.

To capitalize on those gains, though, Iraqi officials need to show they can form a government that can begin to assert control over Iraq's destiny.