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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Following the completion of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq on December 18, 2011, relations among major political factions worsened substantially, threatening Iraq’s stability and the legacy of the U.S. intervention in Iraq. After extensive sectarian conflict during 2006-2008, and with U.S. troops still present, Iraq’s political system evolved into relatively peaceful political competition and formation of cross-sectarian alliances. Sunni Arabs, always fearful that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would seek unchallenged power for Shiite factions allied with him, accused him of an outright power grab as he sought to purge the two highest ranking Sunni Arabs from government (a deputy President and deputy Prime Minister). The Sunnis have sought to enlist the help of the Kurds to curb Maliki’s perceived ambitions; the Kurds also distrust Maliki over territorial, political, and economic issues. The apparent unraveling of the political consensus has created conditions under which the insurgency that hampered U.S. policy during 2004-2008 continues to conduct occasional high casualty attacks, including over a dozen near-simultaneous bombings on December 22, 2011, and several since then.

1The splits within Iraq’s government that widened since mid-December 2011 have called into question many of the assumptions underpinning the decision to complete the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, in line with a November 2008 bilateral U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement. The full withdrawal was announced on October 21, 2011, after Iraqi factions refused to grant legal immunity to any U.S. forces after the end of 2011. U.S. negotiations with Iraq during 2011 sought to extend the agreement to allow for the presence of 3,000—5,000 U.S. forces after that time, based on lingering doubts over the ability of Iraqi leaders and security forces to preserve the gains achieved with U.S. help. With no viable alternative to keeping some U.S. troops in Iraq, Administration officials asserted that Iraq’s governing and security maintenance capacity is sufficient to continue to build democracy, enact long delayed national oil laws, and undertake other measures without a major U.S. military presence. Iraq’s security forces number over 650,000 members, increasingly well armed and well trained—enough to justify selling Iraq such sophisticated equipment as U.S. F-16 aircraft. Some movement on national oil laws had occurred since August 2011. The assertions have sought to rebut outside criticism that Iraq’s factions lacked focus on governance, or on improving key services, such as electricity.

The view of the Administration and others is that Iraqi factions, with U.S. and other help, will be able to work through the severe political disputes and ongoing violence, and will also be willing and able to resist increased Iranian influence in Iraq. The Administration states that U.S. training will continue using programs for Iraq similar to those with other countries in which there is no U.S. troop presence, and about 15,000 U.S. personnel, including contractors, remain in Iraq under State Department authority to exert U.S. influence. Continuing the security relationship in the absence of U.S. troops in Iraq, and developing the civilian bilateral relationship, was the focus of the U.S. visit of Prime Minister Maliki on December 12, 2011.

Date of Report: January 2
4, 2012
Number of Pages:
Order Number: RS2
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