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Friday, April 30, 2010

Bahrain: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs


After instability during the late 1990s, Bahrain undertook substantial political reforms that include the Shiite majority in governance. However, unrest among Bahraini Shiites continues to simmer over the Sunni-led government's perceived manipulation of citizenship and election laws and regulations to maintain its grip on power. In late 2008, the power struggle manifested as large demonstrations and some arrests of Shiite opposition leaders. Smaller but frequent incidents of violence continue to date, often resulting in Bahraini civilian injuries or occasional deaths. These tensions are increasing in the run up to the next parliamentary elections, planned for November 2010, in which most Bahraini Shiites perceive they will again be deprived of election victory. 

Underlying the unrest are lingering Bahraini government fears that Iran is supporting Shiite opposition movements, possibly in an effort to install a Shiite led, pro-Iranian government on the island. These fears are occasionally reinforced by comments from Iranian editorialists and political leaders that Bahrain should never have become formally independent of Iran. 

Bahrain has few external security options other than relying on some degree of U.S. security guarantee. Bahrain has tried to earn that guarantee by hosting U.S. naval headquarters for the Gulf for over 60 years and by providing facilities and small numbers of personnel for U.S. war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States has designated Bahrain as a "Major Non- NATO Ally," and it provides small amounts of security assistance to Bahrain. These security agreements have caused some public criticism of successive U.S. Administrations for muting criticism of Bahrain's human rights record in the interests of ensuring Bahrain's cooperation on these major security issues. 

However, because a U.S. security commitment is not formal or explicit, Bahrain's rulers have sought to avoid inviting Iranian aggression, in part by signing energy agreements with Iran and by allowing Iranian banks and businesses to operate there. Bahrain has also sought to dissuade Bahraini journalists and officials from publicly criticizing Iran. On other regional issues such as the Arab-Israeli dispute, Bahrain has tended to defer to Saudi Arabia or other powers to take the lead in formulating proposals or representing the position of the Persian Gulf states, collectively. 

In September 2004, the United States and Bahrain signed a free trade agreement (FTA); legislation implementing it was signed January 11, 2006 (P.L. 109-169).



Date of Report: April 26, 2010
Number of Pages: 15
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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Afghanistan Casualties: Military Forces and Civilians

Susan G. Chesser
Information Research Specialist

This report collects statistics from a variety of sources on casualties sustained during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), which began on October 7, 2001, and is ongoing. OEF actions take place primarily in Afghanistan; however, OEF casualties also includes American casualties in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Guantanamo Bay (Cuba), Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines, Seychelles, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Yemen. 

Casualty data of U.S. military forces are compiled by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), as tallied from the agency's press releases. Also included are statistics on those wounded but not killed. Statistics may be revised as circumstances are investigated and as records are processed through the U.S. military's casualty system. More frequent updates are available at DOD's website at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/ under "Casualty Update." 

A detailed casualty summary of U.S. military forces that includes data on deaths by cause, as well as statistics on soldiers wounded in action, is available at the following DOD website: http://siadapp.dmdc.osd.mil/personnel/CASUALTY/castop.htm

NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) does not post casualty statistics of the military forces of partner countries on the ISAF website at http://www.isaf.nato.int/. ISAF press releases state that it is ISAF policy to defer to the relevant national authorities to provide notice of any fatality. For this reason, this report uses fatality data of coalition forces as compiled by CNN.com and posted online at http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2004/oef.casualties/index.html

Casualty data of Afghan civilians are reported quarterly by the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA). Deaths of Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army personnel are reported by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in the quarterly reports to Congress that are required as part of P.L. 110-181. 

Because the estimates of Afghan casualties contained in this report are based on varying time periods and have been created using different methodologies, readers should exercise caution when using them and should look to them as guideposts rather than as statements of fact.


Date of Report: April 12 2010
Number of Pages: 5
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Iran-Iraq Relations

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs


With a conventional military and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threat from Saddam Hussein's regime removed, Iran seeks to ensure that Iraq can never again become a threat to Iran, either with or without U.S. forces present in Iraq. Some believe that Iran's intentions go well beyond achieving Iraq's "neutrality"— that Iran wants to try to harness Iraq to Iran's broader regional policy goals and to help Iran defend against international criticism of Iran's nuclear program. Others believe Iran sees Iraq as providing lucrative investment opportunities and a growing market for Iranian products and contracts. Still others believe that Iran wants only stability in Iraq so that Iran's leaders can concentrate on addressing the unrest in Iran that followed that country's June 12, 2009, presidential election. This domestic unrest has given Iran another reason to exercise influence in Iraq—to try to suppress Iranian dissidents located over the border inside Iraq. 

Iran has sought to achieve its goals in Iraq through several strategies: supporting pro-Iranian factions and armed militias; attempting to influence Iraqi political leaders and faction leaders; and building economic ties throughout Iraq that might accrue goodwill to Iran. It is Iran's support for armed Shiite factions that most concerns U.S. officials. That Iranian activity hindered—and continues to pose a threat to—U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq, and has heightened the U.S. threat perception of Iran generally. 

Many of Iraq's current leaders were in exile in Iran or materially supported by Iran during Saddam's rule, and see Iran as a mentor and an influential actor in Iraq. Even those who have longstanding ties to Iran have asserted themselves as nationalist defenders of Iraqi interests, but Iraq appears to be a clearly subordinate partner in the relationship. Perhaps resenting this relationship, many Iraqi citizens have appeared to reject parties and factions who accept preponderant Iranian influence in Iraq. This sentiment has caused Iran to suffer key setbacks in Iraq. The most pro-Iranian factions generally fared poorly in the January 31, 2009, provincial elections and again in the March 7, 2010, national elections for the National Assembly that will choose the next government. A political bloc that is decidedly against Iranian influence and which is supported by Iraq's Sunni Arabs won the most seats in the March 7 election, although this bloc might not necessarily have enough support among other blocs to be able to assemble a government. Still, virtually all political blocs are consulting with Iran to try to gain its support for their inclusion in or dominance of any new government. 

Also see CRS Report RL32048,
Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, by Kenneth Katzman.


 

Date of Report: April 15, 2010
Number of Pages: 14
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Monday, April 19, 2010

CRS Issue Statement on Iraq

Christopher M. Blanchard, Coordinator
Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs


Iraq's newly elected government will face persistent challenges and new opportunities in the wake of March 2010 national elections. While post-2007 security gains and steps toward reconciliation halted Iraq's descent into civil war and chaos, in the immediate term, Iraqi and U.S. policy makers continue to focus on efforts to consolidate those gains and improvements, which remain fragile. U.S. commanders report in early 2010 that further withdrawals of the approximately 110,000 remaining U.S. troops from Iraq will, as expected, begin after the Iraqi elections. 

Under the U.S.-Iraqi Security Agreement, U.S. troops will shift from a combat to a support and training role, declining to about 50,000 troops by August 31, 2010 and withdrawing completely by December 31, 2011. The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraqi cities was completed by July 2009, in line with the U.S.-Iraq agreement. The U.S. Army's Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP), an Army program designed to manage civilian contractors, is now in transition. The LOGCAP III contractor is participating in the Iraq drawdown, and the LOGCAP IV contractor is now involved in the transition of requirements. 

In 2009, Iraqi and U.S. officials hoped that improved conditions would allow the United States and its Iraqi partners to look, for the first time since 2003, beyond short term security concerns toward defining a more normal, long-term bilateral relationship. A series of high profile attacks in late 2009 raised some questions about the capabilities and reliability of Iraq's security forces, although U.S. and Iraqi officials continue to express confidence that insurgent and terrorist groups in Iraq have been degraded and no longer pose a strategic threat to the Iraqi government. The success of security operations during Iraq's national elections further boosted the confidence of Iraqi and U.S. officials. Meanwhile, tensions between Sunni Arabs and Kurds as well as between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad remain unresolved, amid concerns that conflict could result. 

Declines in global oil prices have had a direct fiscal impact on Iraq's budget, and may have a greater negative effect if price declines resume or if export volumes remain static. In 2009, Iraq awarded a number of new contracts for the development of its oil sector and the expansion of oil production and exports, in spite of an ongoing delay over the issuance of new oil and gas sector management legislation. Iraq has opened new, more positive relationships with many of its neighbors, while relations with others, such as Saudi Arabia, remain tentative or, in the case of Iran, potentially disruptive. 

Congressional debate on Iraq during the second session of the 111th Congress may continue to focus on U.S. efforts to help Iraq consolidate hard-won security improvements and to encourage Iraqis to find political accommodations. Debate also may focus on policies to adequately fund and prepare U.S. forces to execute ongoing security missions, to expand training activities, and to continue withdrawals as called for in the bilateral agreements with Iraq and U.S. plans. The outcome of coalition negotiations among the winning parties in Iraq's March 2010 election will influence the positions of the Iraqi government as the United States implements its policy of security partnership and military withdrawal. Congress will consider FY2011 budget requests and authorizations from the Obama Administration that likely will reflect U.S. priorities for supporting Iraq's transition and for future U.S. engagement.



Additional resources can be found here: http://www.pennyhill.net/documents/iraq.pdf



Date of Report: March 31, 2010
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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs


The performance and legitimacy of the Afghan government figured prominently in two reviews of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan during 2009 and continues to color U.S. relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In his December 1, 2009, speech on Afghanistan, which followed the second review, President Obama stated that the Afghan government would be judged on performance, and "The days of providing a blank check are over." The policy statement was based, in part, on criticisms of Karzai's leadership by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and other U.S. officials. President Obama pressed Karzai on his government's deficiencies, particularly corruption, during a March 28, 2010, visit to Afghanistan and invited him to visit Washington D.C. on May 12, 2010. The visit may have contributed to two subsequent statements by Karzai accusing the international community of exercising undue pressure on him and on Afghanistan. 

The Afghan government's widespread official corruption, as well as its ineffectiveness, is identified by U.S. officials as feeding the insurgency. At the same time, Karzai's alliances with key ethnic and political faction leaders have reduced his ability to stock the government with politically neutral and technically competent officers. Despite diminished confidence in Karzai, he went into the August 20, 2009, presidential election as the favorite. Amid widespread charges of fraud, many substantiated by a U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), nearly one-third of Karzai's votes were invalidated, leaving Karzai just short of the 50%+ total needed to avoid a second-round runoff. Asserting that more fraud was likely, Karzai's main challenger dropped out of the race on November 1, 2009, and Karzai was declared the winner. He has since had difficulty obtaining parliamentary confirmation of a full cabinet, and 10 ministerial posts remain unfilled. Most of the highly regarded economic ministers have been confirmed. 

Karzai's hopes to rebuild international support for his leadership at a major international conference on Afghanistan in Britain on January 28, 2010, were only partly fulfilled. The conference endorsed—and agreed to begin to fund—his proposals to try to persuade insurgent fighters to give up their fight. For his part, Karzai committed to several specific steps to try to weed out official corruption and to ensure that all future elections are free and fair. However, that pledge was undermined, to an extent, in February 2010 when Karzai issued an election decree that would eliminate the three U.N.-appointed positions for international officials on the ECC. The decree would apply to the National Assembly elections now set for September 18, 2010. However, as a further rebuke to his authority and assertion of its powers, the lower house of Afghanistan's National Assembly voted on March 31, 2010, to reject the decree, although the upper house subsequently upheld the decree. 

Because most insurgents are, like Karzai, ethnic Pashtuns, stabilizing Afghanistan requires winning Pashtun political support for the Afghan government, which requires effective local governing structures; the trend to promote local governing bodies has been accelerated by the Obama Administration. This so-called "civilian uplift" effort has doubled the number of U.S. civilian personnel helping build Afghan governing and security institutions and the economy. That number (now about 975) is expected to rise by another 30% during 2010. For more information, see CRS Report RL30588,
Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy; and CRS Report R40747, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan: Background and Policy Issues.


 

Date of Report: April 6 2010
Number of Pages: 40
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Friday, April 16, 2010

Jordan: Background and U.S. Relations

Jeremy M. Sharp
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs


This report provides an overview of Jordanian politics and current issues in U.S.-Jordanian relations. It provides a brief discussion of Jordan's government and economy and of its cooperation in promoting Arab-Israeli peace and other U.S. policy objectives in the Middle East. Several issues in U.S.-Jordanian relations are likely to figure in decisions by Congress and the Administration on future aid to and cooperation with Jordan. These include the stability of the Jordanian regime, the role of Jordan in the Arab-Israeli peace process, and U.S.-Jordanian military and intelligence cooperation. 

Although the United States and Jordan have never been linked by a formal treaty, they have cooperated on a number of regional and international issues over the years. The country's small size and lack of major economic resources have made it dependent on aid from Western and friendly Arab sources. U.S. support, in particular, has helped Jordan deal with serious vulnerabilities, both internal and external. Jordan's geographic position, wedged between Israel, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, has made it vulnerable to the strategic designs of its more powerful neighbors, but has also given Jordan an important role as a buffer between these potential adversaries. In 1990, Jordan's unwillingness to join the allied coalition against Iraq disrupted its relations with the United States and the Persian Gulf states; however, relations improved throughout the 1990s as Jordan played an increasing role in the Arab-Israeli peace process and distanced itself from Saddam Hussein's Iraq. 

The United States has provided economic and military aid, respectively, to Jordan since 1951 and 1957. Total U.S. aid to Jordan through FY2009 amounted to approximately $10.72 billion. Levels of aid have fluctuated, increasing in response to threats faced by Jordan and decreasing during periods of political differences or worldwide curbs on aid funding. On September 22, 2008, the U.S. and Jordanian governments reached an agreement whereby the United States will provide a total of $660 million in annual foreign assistance to Jordan over a five-year period. 

For FY2011, the Administration is requesting $682.7 million for Jordan in total military and economic aid. The Jordanian government also is seeking additional FY2010 aid from Congress, as lawmakers consider supplemental appropriations legislation to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. H.Res. 833, which was passed by the House on November 7, 2009, commemorates the 60th anniversary of the close relationship between the United States and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Its companion bill, S.Res. 376, passed the Senate on December 16, 2009.



Date of Report: April 9 2010
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U.S. Nuclear Cooperation with India: Issues for Congress

Paul K. Kerr
Analyst in Nonproliferation

India, which has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and does not have International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on all nuclear material in peaceful nuclear activities, exploded a "peaceful" nuclear device in 1974, convincing the world of the need for greater restrictions on nuclear trade. The United States created the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) as a direct response to India's test, halted nuclear exports to India a few years later, and worked to convince other states to do the same. India tested nuclear weapons again in 1998. However, President Bush announced July 18, 2005, he would "work to achieve full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India" and would "also seek agreement from Congress to adjust U.S. laws and policies," in the context of a broader partnership with India. 

U.S. nuclear cooperation is governed by the Atomic Energy Act (AEA). P.L. 109-401, which President Bush signed into law on December 18, 2006, provides waivers of several provisions of the AEA (Sections 123 a. (2), 128, and 129). It requires that several steps occur before nuclear cooperation can proceed. On September 10, 2008, President Bush submitted to Congress a written determination that these requirements had been met. That same day, the President submitted the text of the proposed agreement, which had not yet been signed. The President also submitted a written determination (also required by the AEA) "that the performance of the proposed agreement will promote and will not constitute an unreasonable risk to, the common defense and security." In addition, President Bush submitted several documents, including classified and unclassified versions of a Nuclear Proliferation Assessment Statement, which is required by section 123 of the AEA. The Department of State also submitted a report required by P.L. 109- 401 on various aspects of the agreement. 

On September 27, 2008, the House passed H.R. 7081, which approved the agreement. The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations approved identical legislation, S. 3548, September 23. The Senate passed H.R. 7081 October 1. President Bush signed P.L. 110-369 into law October 8. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and India's External Affairs Minister Shri Pranab Mukherjee signed the agreement October 10, and it entered into force December 6, 2008. 

U.S. companies have not yet started nuclear trade with India. New Delhi had reportedly insisted that India and the United States conclude an agreement on a reprocessing facility in India before New Delhi would sign contracts with U.S. nuclear firms. However, the countries announced March 29 that they had concluded the agreement. The Administration must submit the subsequent arrangement to Congress, but has not yet done so. The proposed arrangement shall not take effect if Congress adopts a joint resolution of disapproval. 

It is worth noting that U.S. firms will likely be very reluctant to engage in nuclear trade with India if the government does not become party to the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, which has not yet entered into force.


Date of Report: April 8 2010
Number of Pages: 47
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Iran Sanctions

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs


Numerous laws and regulations have been adopted or issued to try to curb Iran's support for militant groups and slow its weapons of mass destruction programs. The sanctions are intended to reduce the revenue available to Iran's government and to generate domestic pressure within Iran to adopt policies more acceptable to the international community. The wide range of U.S. sanctions restrict U.S. trade with and investment in Iran, prohibit U.S. foreign aid to Iran, and require the United States to vote against international lending to Iran. Several laws and executive orders authorize the imposition of U.S. penalties against foreign companies that do business with Iran, as part of an effort to persuade foreign firms to choose between the Iranian market and the much larger U.S. market. Foreign subsidiaries of U.S. firms remain generally exempt from the trade ban since they operate under the laws of the countries where these subsidiaries are incorporated. Since 2006, the United Nations Security Council has imposed some sanctions primarily attempting to curtail supply to Iran of weapons-related technology but also sanctioning several Iranian banks. 

This paper is not a comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness of U.S. and international sanctions on Iran, in part because of the difficulty in determining how significant a factor sanctions are in Iran's domestic or foreign policy situations or decisions. U.S. officials have identified Iran's energy sector as a key Iranian economic vulnerability because Iran's government revenues are approximately 80% dependent on oil revenues and in need of substantial foreign investment. A U.S. effort to curb international energy investment in Iran began in 1996 with the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), but no firms have been sanctioned under it. Still, ISA, when coupled with broader factors, may have influenced some international firms' decisions whether to invest in Iran. Iran has been unable to expand oil production beyond 4.1 million barrels per day, although it does now have a gas export sector that it did not have before Iran opened its fields to foreign investment in 1996. In an effort to further exploit Iran's weaknesses, in particular its dependence on imports of gasoline, in the 111th Congress, H.R. 2194 (which passed the House on December 15, 2009), would add as ISA violations selling refined gasoline to Iran; providing shipping insurance or other services to deliver gasoline to Iran; or supplying equipment to or performing the construction of oil refineries in Iran. A Senate version was passed on January 28, 2010 (S. 2799), which contains these sanctions as well as a broad range of other measures against Iran. It was passed as an amendment to H.R. 2194 on March 11, 2010, setting up conference action on the differing versions. 

While the oil and gas sector has been a focus of U.S. sanctions since the 1990s, the Obama Administration appears to be shifting - in U.S. regulations and in discussions with U.S. allies on a possible new U.N. Security Council Resolution - to targeting Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for sanctions. This shift is intended to weaken the Guard as a proliferation-supporting organization, as well as to expose its role in trying to crush the democratic opposition in Iran. A growing trend in Congress, reflected in several bills that are have passed or are in various stages of consideration, would sanction Iranian officials who are human rights abusers, facilitate the democracy movement's access to information, and express outright U.S. support for the overthrow of the regime. Possibly as a result of this trend, and the potential for doing business with Iran to harm corporate reputations, since 2010 began, several major international firms have announced an end to their business pursuits in Iran. For more on Iran, see CRS Report RL32048, 
Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, by Kenneth Katzman.


Date of Report: April 9, 2010
Number of Pages: 34
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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The Obama Administration, as have the several previous Administrations, has articulated U.S. policy goals as ensuring that Iran does not become a nuclear armed state and reducing Iran's ability to undermine U.S. objectives and allies in the Middle East. The Obama Administration has not changed the Bush Administration's characterization of Iran as a "profound threat to U.S. national security interests," a perception generated not only by Iran's nuclear program but also by its military assistance to armed groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the Palestinian group Hamas, and to Lebanese Hezbollah. 

However, the Obama Administration has altered the U.S. approach to achieve those goals by expanding direct diplomatic engagement with Iran's government and by offering Iran's leaders a vision of closer integration with and acceptance by the West. To try to convince Iranian leaders of peaceful U.S. intent, the Obama Administration has downplayed discussion of potential U.S. military action against Iranian nuclear facilities and has repeatedly insisted that the United States is not directly or materially supporting the domestic opposition movement that emerged following Iran's June 12, 2009, presidential election. 

Yet, the domestic opposition—which at times has appeared to pose a potentially serious challenge to the regime's grip on power—has presented the Administration with additional policy options. In December 2009, Administration statements shifted toward greater public support of the domestic opposition "Green movement," but Administration officials appear to believe that the opposition's prospects are enhanced by a low U.S. public profile on the unrest. Congressional resolutions and legislation since mid-2009 show growing congressional support for steps to enhance the opposition's prospects. 

Even at the height of the Green movement protests, the Obama Administration did not forego diplomatic options to blunt Iran's nuclear progress and says it remains open to a nuclear deal if Iran fully accepts a framework Iran tentatively agreed to in multilateral talks on October 1, 2009. However, Iran did not accept the technical details of this by the notional deadline of the end of 2009, nor has it adequately responded to international concerns about possible work on a nuclear weapons program. These concerns have sparked renewed multilateral discussions of more U.N. sanctions. New sanctions under negotiation would target members and companies of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is not only a pillar of Iran's nuclear program but is also the main element used by the regime to crack down against the protesters. 

Additional U.N. Security Council sanctions would build on those put in place since 2006. These sanctions generally are targeted against WMD-related trade with Iran, but also ban Iran from transferring arms outside Iran and restrict dealings with some Iranian banks. Separate U.S. efforts to persuade European governments to curb trade with, investment in, and credits for Iran, and to convince foreign banks not to do business with Iran, are intended to compound the U.N. pressure. Each chamber in the 111th Congress has passed separate legislation to try to curb sales to Iran of gasoline, which many Members believe could help pressure Iran into a nuclear settlement or undermine the regime's popularity even further. Others believe such steps could help the regime rebuild its support by painting the international community as punitive against the Iranian people. For further information, see CRS Report RS20871, Iran Sanctions, by Kenneth Katzman; CRS Report R40849, Iran: Regional Perspectives and U.S. Policy, coordinated by Casey L. Addis; and CRS Report RL34544, Iran's Nuclear Program: Status, by Paul K. Kerr.


Date of Report: April 1, 2010
Number of Pages: 65
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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Iraq: Politics, Elections, and Benchmarks

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Iraq's political system, the result of a U.S.-supported election process, has been increasingly characterized by peaceful competition, as well as by attempts to form cross-sectarian alliances. However, ethnic and factional infighting continues, sometimes using key levers of power and undemocratic means. This was in evidence in the successful efforts by Shiite Arab political leaders to disqualify some prominent Sunni Arab candidates in the March 7, 2010, national elections for the next Council of Representatives (COR, parliament), which will form the next government. Election-related violence occurred before and during the election, although not at levels of earlier years or at a level to significantly affect voting, except perhaps for Baghdad city. 

With all votes counted, although not certified, the cross-sectarian "Iraqiyya" slate of former Prime Minister Iyad al-Allawi unexpectedly has gained a plurality of 91 of the 325 COR seats up for election. Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's slate came in a close second, with two fewer seats, and a rival Shiite coalition was a distant third with 70. The main Kurdish parties, again allied, won 43. Allawi's slate had been expected to get the first opportunity to put together a majority coalition to form a government. However, Maliki and other Shiite parties—opposing what they claim is the mostly Sunni Arab base of the Allawi slate—are in extensive discussions to put together a coalition that would be able to determine the next government. 

Adding to the tensions is the perception that Maliki has become increasingly authoritarian over the past three years, and might use all available levers of power to keep himself or his faction at the helm of the next government. Some fear that he and his allies will use legal and constitutional processes, personal and political ties to key judicial bodies, arrests, and intimidation through use of the Iraqi Security Forces to deny Allawi a chance to emerge as Prime Minister. 

Allawi, who is viewed as even-handed and not amenable to Iranian influence, is considered to be favored by the Obama Administration. However, many expect the Administration will not or cannot intervene decisively in the Iraqi effort to construct a new government. Obama Administration officials have said that the election was sufficiently successful—and the security situation remains sufficiently stable—that the planned reduction of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq to about 50,000 U.S. forces by August 2010 will proceed as planned. The current level is just below 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. However, many believe that U.S. plans might change if the post-election political process turns highly violent—a development that is not widely expected. Under the U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement that took effect January 1, 2009, and which President Obama has said would be followed, all U.S. forces are to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. U.S. officials are hoping that not only will a new government be assembled, but that it will overcome the long-standing differences that have thus far prevented passage of key outstanding legislation considered crucial to political comity going forward, such as national hydrocarbon laws. See CRS Report RL31339, Iraq: Post-Saddam Governance and Security, by Kenneth Katzman.


Date of Report: March 29, 2010
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number:RS21968
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