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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Immediately 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. Sunni Arabs, always fearful that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would seek unchallenged power for Shiite factions allied with him, accuse him of an outright power grab as he seeks 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 political crisis threatens to undo the relatively peaceful political competition and formation of cross-sectarian alliances that had emerged since 2007 following several years of sectarian conflict. Some Sunni insurgents groups apparently seek to undermine Maliki by conducting high profile attacks intended to reignite sectarian conflict.

The 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. U.S. negotiations during most of 2011 with Iraqi leaders—eager to assert sovereignty after eight years of U.S. tutelage—failed to extend the agreement to allow for the presence of 3,000—5,000 U.S. forces after 2011. The U.S. offer to retain troops was based on lingering U.S. doubts over the ability of Iraqi leaders and security forces to preserve the earlier gains. As U.S. troops withdrew, Administration officials asserted publicly—and perhaps contrary to internal U.S. assessments—that Iraq’s governing and security 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 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 16,000 U.S. personnel, including contractors, remain in Iraq under State Department authority to exert U.S. influence. Perhaps because Iraqi leaders are asserting increasing independence from U.S. mentorship, the State Department said in February 2012 that it is considering a significant reduction in U.S. personnel in Iraq. 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: February 23, 2012
Number of Pages: 49
Order Number: RS21968
Price: $29.95

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