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Friday, April 29, 2011

Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights


Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Iraq’s political system is increasingly characterized by peaceful competition and formation of cross-sectarian alliances. However, ethnic and sectarian political and sometimes violent infighting continues, often involving the questionable use of key levers of power and legal institutions. This infighting—and the belief that holding political power may mean the difference between life and death for the various political communities—significantly delayed agreement on a new government that was to be selected following the March 7, 2010, national elections for the Council of Representatives (COR, parliament). With U.S. diplomatic intervention, on November 10, 2010, major ethnic and sectarian factions agreed on a framework for a new government, breaking the long deadlock. Their agreement, under which Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki serves a second term, was implemented in the formation of a broad-based cabinet on December 21, 2010.

The participation of all major factions in the new government was considered stabilizing politically and created some political momentum to act on key outstanding legislation crucial to attracting foreign investment, such as national hydrocarbon laws. The new government took action on some long-stalled initiatives, including year-long tensions over Kurdish exports of oil. However, the lack of a broader and sustained focus on governance, or on improving key services, such as electricity, created popular frustration that manifested as protests since February 2011. The demonstrations were partly inspired by the wave of unrest that has broken out in many other Middle Eastern countries, but were not centered on overthrowing the regime or wholesale political change. Some force was used to suppress them, but the major effect was to renew tensions among and within major factions rather than to prompt new attempts to improve government performance.

Political schisms, aggravated by the political unrest, could still cause serious instability. Sunni Arab fears that Maliki and his Shiite allies seek to monopolize power remain, as do the concerns of the Kurds that Maliki will not honor pledges to resolve Kurd-Arab territorial and financial disputes. There are significant tensions between Sunni Arabs and the Kurds over territory and governance in parts of northern Iraq, particularly Nineveh Province. Some Iraqi communities, including Christians, are not necessarily at odds with the government but they have been targeted by insurgent attacks in late 2010 and early 2011. Still, the overall human rights situation in Iraq is vastly improved from what it was at the height of sectarian conflict (2006-2008).

These splits cloud the approaching completion of a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq at the end of 2011, in keeping with a 2008 U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement. With the formal end of the U.S. combat mission on August 31, 2010, U.S. forces have dropped to 47,000, from a 2008 high of 170,000. Continuing high profile attacks, although sporadic and relatively infrequent, have caused some experts to question whether security will deteriorate to the point where Iraq becomes a “failed state” after 2011, unless Iraq requests the continued presence of U.S. forces after that time. Such a potential request has been the focus of several high-level U.S. visits to Iraq in March and April 2011. Some question the ability of the U.S. State Department to secure its facilities and personnel and to carry out its mission on its own, without direct U.S. military participation.

There are also continuing concerns over Iranian influence over Iraq as U.S. forces depart. Iran’s main protégé in Iraq, Moqtada Al Sadr, has returned to Iraq as of the beginning of 2011, following three years of exile for religious studies in Iran. He appears to be using the deficiencies of the Maliki government as a way to bolster his faction’s position and potentially to justify reactivating his armed Mahdi Army militia.



Date of Report: April 19, 2011
Number of Pages: 37
Order Number: RS21968
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

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


Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Protests that erupted in Bahrain following the uprising that overthrew Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011, demonstrate that Shiite grievances over the distribution of power and economic opportunities were not satisfied by previous efforts to include the Shiite majority in governance. Possibly because of concerns that a rise to power of the Shiite opposition could jeopardize the extensive U.S. military cooperation with Bahrain, the Obama Administration has criticized the use of violence by the government but has praised the Al Khalifa regime’s offer of a dialogue with the demonstrators. It has not called for the King to step down, and Administration contacts with his government are credited by many for the decision of the regime to cease using force against the protesters as of February 19, 2011. However, as protests escalated in March 2011, Bahrain’s government, contrary to the advice of the Obama Administration, invited security assistance from other neighboring Gulf Cooperation Council countries and subsequently moved to forcefully end the large gatherings. Some believe the crackdown has reduced prospects for a negotiated political solution in Bahrain, and could widen the conflict to the broader Gulf region. Others see the primary consequence of the unrest as fostering sectarian hatreds within the population, no longer confined to elite power struggles.

The 2011 unrest, in which some opposition factions have escalated their demands in response to the initial use of force by the government, began four months after the October 23, 2010, parliamentary election. That election, no matter the outcome, would not have unseated the ruling Al Khalifa family from power, but Shiite activists believed that winning a majority in the elected lower house could give it greater authority. In advance of the elections, the government launched a wave of arrests intended to try to discredit some of the hard-line Shiite leadership as proteges of Iran. On the other hand, Bahrain’s Shiite oppositionists, and many outside experts, accuse the government of inflating the relationship between Iran and the opposition in order to justify the use of force against Bahraini Shiites.

Unrest in Bahrain directly affects U.S. national security interests. Bahrain, in exchange for a tacit U.S. security guarantee, has provided key support for U.S. interests 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. Bahraini facilities are pivotal to U.S. strategy to deter any Iranian aggression as well as to interdict the movement of terrorists and weapons-related technology on Gulf waterways. The United States has designated Bahrain as a “major non-NATO ally,” and it provides small amounts of security assistance to Bahrain. 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.

Fueling Shiite unrest is the fact that Bahrain is generally poorer than most of the other Persian Gulf monarchies, in large part because Bahrain has largely run out of crude oil reserves. It has tried to compensate through diversification, particularly in the banking sector and some manufacturing. 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 20, 2011
Number of Pages: 25
Order Number: 95-1013
Price: $29.95

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses


Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The Obama Administration views Iran as a major threat to U.S. national security interests, a perception generated not only by Iran’s nuclear program but also by its materiel assistance to armed groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the Palestinian group Hamas, and to Lebanese Hezbollah. Throughout its first year, the Obama Administration altered the previous U.S. approach by offering Iran’s leaders consistent and sustained engagement with the potential for closer integration with and acceptance by the West. To try to convince Iranian leaders of peaceful U.S. intent and respect for Iran’s history and stature in the region, the Obama Administration downplayed any discussion of potential U.S. military action against Iranian nuclear facilities or efforts to try to change Iran’s regime.

The Administration held to this position even at the height of the protests by the domestic opposition “Green movement” that took place for the six months following Iran’s June 12, 2009, presidential election but largely ceased in 2010. Without obtaining agreement from Iran to implement a compromise outlined on October 1, 2009, during 2010 the Administration worked to expand international economic sanctions against Iran. Major sanctions were imposed on Iran by U.N. Security Council (Resolution 1929), as well as related “national measures” by the European Union, Japan, South Korea, and other countries. Additional measures designed to compel foreign firms to exit the Iranian market were contained in U.S. legislation passed in June 2010 (the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act, P.L. 111-195). Still, the Administration and its partners assert that these sanctions were intended to support diplomacy with Iran to limit its nuclear program. Iran accepted December 6-7, 2010, talks in Geneva with the six power contact group negotiating with Iran, but no substantive progress was reported. Nor was progress made at follow-on talks in Turkey on January 21-22, 2011, and no further sets of talks have been agreed. U.S. officials indicate that additional pressure could be forthcoming, although with no particular timeframe.

As of February 2011,the Administration, while not ruling out further diplomacy or further sanctions, appears to be shifting to increased public support of the Green movement. This comes in the context of the public reactivation of the Green movement as popular uprisings have spread throughout the Middle East in 2011. Many in the 112
th Congress believe the United States should support popular democracy movements in the Middle East, especially in Iran. However, there are no indications the Administration plans to provide direct, material support to the Green movement.

Some believe that the U.S. focus should remain on pressing Iran economically and diplomatically. Sanctions, by some accounts, have slowed Iran’s nuclear program directly. Iran is reacting to the economic pressure, in part, by trying to restructure its economy to reduce subsidies and suppress demand for such imported items as gasoline. The apparent slowing of Iran’s nuclear program has quieted discussion in Israel or in U.S. expert circles about using military action to set Iran’s nuclear program back. The Administration has stepped up arms sales to regional states that share the U.S. suspicions of Iran’s intentions. Still, some believe that only a takeover by the Green movement can permanently reduce the multiplicity of threats posed by Iran’s regime. For further information, see CRS Report RS20871, Iran Sanctions; CRS Report R40849, Iran: Regional Perspectives and U.S. Policy; and CRS Report RL34544, Iran’s Nuclear Program: Status.



Date of Report: April 7, 2011
Number of Pages: 71
Order Number: RL32048
Price: $29.95

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Turkey-U.S. Defense Cooperation: Prospects and Challenges


Jim Zanotti
Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs

Congress and the Obama Administration are seeking to manage longstanding bilateral and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-based defense cooperation with Turkey at a time when a more independent Turkish foreign policy course and changes in regional security conditions are creating new challenges for both countries. Defense cooperation rooted in shared threat perceptions from the Cold War era and built on close U.S. ties with the Turkish military leadership now must be reconciled with a decline of the military’s political influence in Turkish society and some negative turns in Turkish popular sentiment toward the United States over the past decade. At the same time, Turkey’s importance as a U.S. ally has arguably increased on issues of global significance in its surrounding region that include Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In early 2011, Turkey’s regional role has arguably become even more prominent—exemplified by its significant involvement politically and militarily on the question of NATO’s intervention in Libya.

How Congress and the Administration manage defense cooperation with Turkey in this evolving context is likely to have a significant bearing on U.S. national security interests, as well as on both U.S. and Turkish calculations of the mutual benefits and leverage involved in the cooperative relationship. Some officials and analysts believe that, in at least some respects, the United States needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the United States. Others counter that claims of Turkish leverage over the United States are exaggerated.

Possible general congressional and Administration approaches to U.S.-Turkey defense cooperation (“Possible U.S. Policy Approaches”) include 
  • avoiding major recharacterizations of the alliance, while emphasizing and expressing confidence that existing NATO and bilateral relationships—with their long legacies—can address mutual security challenges; 
  • according high priority to the alliance and revising expectations for it by accommodating new developments within and outside of Turkey; 
  • linking cooperation in some way to Turkey’s relations with certain third-party countries or non-state actors—including Iran, Israel, Hamas, Armenia, and China—or to Turkish actions on issues of U.S. national security interest; and 
  • using or combining any of these approaches on a case-by-case basis. 
Specific issues that remain of significant importance for Congress (see “Specific Issues and Possible Options for Congress”), given its authority to appropriate funds, review major arms sales, consider non-binding resolutions, and provide general oversight include the following: 
  • Continued military access to Turkish bases and transport corridors: The ongoing availability to the United States and NATO of Turkish bases and transport corridors—which have been used heavily for military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya—is valuable and remains a possible point of contention and leverage. The extent of its importance and of alternatives may be subject to further analysis. 
  • Future of Turkey-Israel relations: U.S. efforts to maintain alliances with both Turkey and Israel could be made more complicated if relations between them do not improve—potentially influencing the regional security environment.
  • Missile defense radar: Whether Turkey agrees in 2011 to host a U.S. forwarddeployed radar for missile defense as part of the NATO system may depend on its perceptions of whether doing so would be more likely to cultivate stability or to be unduly provocative to neighboring countries. 
  • Arms sales and industrial cooperation: Turkey continues to seek advanced military equipment from U.S. sources, particularly with respect to fighter and drone aircraft, helicopters, and missile defense systems (see “Arms Sales and Industrial Cooperation”). At the same time, Turkey is increasingly diversifying its defense contacts and procurement relationships with non-NATO countries. 
  • Military and security assistance: Although the United States no longer provides major annual grant aid to Turkey’s military, assistance continues to foster cooperation on counterterrorism, law enforcement, and military training and education.
For more information on related issues, please see CRS Report R41368, Turkey: Politics of Identity and Power, and CRS Report RL34642, Turkey: Selected Foreign Policy Issues and U.S. Views, both by Jim Zanotti.


Date of Report: April 8, 2011
Number of Pages: 50
Order Number: R41761
Price: $29.95

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Friday, April 22, 2011

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


Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Prior to the wave of unrest that has swept the Middle East in 2011, the United States had consistently praised Sultan Qaboos bin Sa’id Al Said for opening up the political process in the Sultanate of Oman, beginning this initiative in the early 1980s without prompting or pressure from the citizenry. The gradual liberalization allowed Omanis to express their views on issues but without significantly limiting Qaboos’ role as major decision maker. Some Omani human rights activists and civil society leaders, along with many younger Omanis, who have always been unsatisfied with the implicit and explicit limits to political rights in Oman, believe the democratization process had stagnated over the past five years. This disappointment within Oman may have proved deeper and broader than most experts believed when protests broke out in several Omani cities in late February 2011, apparently sparked by grievances similar to those that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on February 11. Still, the generally positive views of Qaboos, coupled with economic measures, appears to have enabled his regime to calm the unrest.

The stakes for the Administration and Congress in Oman’s stability are considerable. Oman is a long-time U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf. It has allowed U.S. access to its military facilities for virtually every U.S. military operation in and around the Gulf since 1980, despite the sensitivities in Oman and throughout the Middle East about a U.S. military presence there. Oman also has fully and consistently supported U.S. efforts to achieve a Middle East peace by publicly endorsing the peace treaties that have been achieved between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors, and by occasionally hosting Israeli political leaders or meeting with them outside Oman. It was partly in appreciation for this alliance that the United States entered into a free trade agreement (FTA) with Oman. The FTA was considered pivotal to helping Oman diversify its economy to compensate for its relatively small reserves of crude oil.

Perhaps because of the extensive benefits the alliance with Oman provides to U.S. Persian Gulf policy, successive U.S. Administrations have tended not to criticize Oman’s relatively close relations with Iran. Oman has a tradition of cooperation with Iran dating back to the Shah of Iran’s regime and Oman has always been less alarmed by the perceived threat from Iran than have the other Gulf states. Oman’s leaders view possible U.S. military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities as potentially more destabilizing to the region than is Iran’s nuclear program or Iran’s foreign policy that supports Shiite and some other hardline Islamist movements. Still, there is a long-standing assumption among U.S. policymakers that, in the event of U.S.-Iran confrontation, Oman would at least tacitly back the United States. For further information on regional dynamics that affect Oman, see CRS Report RL32048, Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, by Kenneth Katzman.



Date of Report: April 13, 2011
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: RS21534
Price: $29.95

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