Iraq's president asked incumbent prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to form a new government yesterday.
The invitation is part of a deal to end an eight-month deadlock over who would lead the country through the next four years, including the departure of the final American troops.
The long-awaited request from President Jalal Talabani sets in motion a 30-day timetable to accomplish the task of finding a team that includes all of Iraq's rival factions.
Mr Talabani said on TV: “We ask Nouri Kamal al-Maliki to form the new government that we hope will be a government of national partnership.” The new government is expected to include all the major factions, including the Kurds, Shiite political parties aligned with Iran, and a Sunni-backed bloc that believes it should have been leading the next government.
Many of the politicians were in the room with Mr al-Maliki and Mr Talabani when the announcement was made in a show of unity that belies the country's often divisive politics.
Mr al-Maliki will have to find substantial roles for all of those factions or risk having them leave his government.