New leader:

The bloc of Shiite parties that won the most seats in Iraq’s election chose Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the leader of one of the two main Shiite Islamic parties, as its candidate for prime minister. But his support base remains dangerously narrow, extending not much further than the 140 national assembly seats, out of 275, held by the Shiite bloc.

The prime minister must be chosen by an executive council whose members will be picked by at least two-thirds of the assembly, far more than the Shiite bloc can supply on its own. That should make it necessary for the successful candidate to provide assurances to the Kurdish, secular and independent legislators that he will respect their constituents’ religious, regional and civil rights - although technically, the designated prime minister will need only a simple majority vote of the assembly to be confirmed.

Any attempts to piece-together a legislative majority without significant Sunni participation would be a catastrophic mistake. Reaching out to the Sunnis offers the only realistic hope for containing insurgency and permitting lasting democracy to take root.

The election, heroic though it was, will not be enough to make Iraq a functioning dem-ocracy or even ensure its future as a unified country. The next few weeks will help determine whether the optimism generated by the vote can be sustained. — The New York Times