It may have taken nine months of political limbo, but Iraq finally has a government. Unfortunately, no one knows quite how it will work. What compromises were made between prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and the various factions remain unclear. The outside world will remain in the dark until parliamentary debates begin hinting at the deals struck.

Compromises made between Nouri al-Maliki and the various factions remain unclear

Much of the focus over the past few months has been about how Baghdad can reconcile its differences with the Kurds. Perhaps just as important is the Shiite cleric, Moqtadr al-Sadr, who quietly returned to Iraq on 5 January after leading his party for three years from Iran.

His party won 43 seats in the March 2010 elections, more than any other single party. Al-Sadr had been one of the leading voices of opposition to international oil companies in Iraq. His support for Al-Maliki’s bid to retain the premiership has been critical, but his return highlights the continuing influence that Iran will wield over Baghdad.

A review of Iraq’s 11 oil and gas contracts, Al-Maliki’s single biggest achievement from his first term, seems unlikely. From the inside of the government, Al-Sadr’s nationalist rhetoric could be diluted. The Oil Ministry is already talking about a fourth round.

Before this however, the new oil minister, Abdulkarim al-Luaibi has some major obstacles to overcome, the biggest of which is dealing with the Kurds. Here he will have to emerge from his predecessor’s shadow.

Hussain al-Shahristani won himself many plaudits for the way he handled Iraq’s three oil and gas field licensing rounds. But he also made enemies, particularly in the Kurdish north. Now as deputy prime minister for energy, Al-Shahristani is still expected to exercise considerable sway on oil policy. How this sits in such a fragile coalition will be critical to Iraq getting back on its feet.