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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Relations among major political factions broke down in late 2011 and have deteriorated further since, threatening Iraq’s stability and the perception of the achievements of the long U.S. intervention in Iraq. Yet, these tensions have not erupted into all-out communal or political violence. Sunni Arabs, always fearful that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would seek unchallenged power for Shiite factions allied with him, accuse him of authoritarianism as he seeks to sideline high ranking Sunni Arabs from government. Iraq’s Kurds have also become increasingly distrustful of Maliki over territorial, political, and economic issues, and are threatening to limit or end their involvement in the central government. More recently, the powerful Shiite faction of Moqtada Al Sadr has expressed support for the move by the other groups to try to oust Maliki to share power, although he remains susceptible to overtures from Maliki, Iran, and other pro-Maliki entities. The political rift has not halted the function of governance but has stalled the movement on national oil laws that had occurred during August- November 2011 and prevented major efforts to improve key services, such as provision of electricity. Some Sunni insurgent groups apparently seek to undermine the Shiite-led government by conducting high-profile attacks intended to reignite sectarian conflict, although the attacks have failed to spark such broad conflict to date.

The widening splits and continuing dysfunctions within Iraq’s government have called into question the legacy of U.S. involvement. In line with the letter of the November 2008 bilateral U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement, President Obama announced on October 21, 2011, that U.S. negotiations with Iraqi leaders failed to extend the agreement to allow for the presence of U.S. forces after 2011. A U.S. proposal 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 well as the U.S. view that a continued troop presence would ensure U.S. influence beyond 2011. However, as U.S. troops withdrew (completing the withdrawal on December 18, 2011), Administration officials asserted publicly that Iraq’s governing and security capacity is sufficient to continue building a stable and democratic Iraq. Iraq’s security forces number nearly 700,000 members, increasingly well-armed and well-trained—observations the Administration says justify selling Iraq such sophisticated equipment as U.S. F-16 aircraft.

The Administration has continued to assist Iraq’s security, and limit Iranian influence, through standard State and Defense Department programs. These include U.S. training for Iraq’s security forces through an Office of Security Cooperation—Iraq (OSC-I) and a State Department police development program. However, as Iraqi leaders seek to emerge from U.S. tutelage, the police training program has shriveled and some OSC-I efforts, which involve DOD personnel, have thus far been limited by a lack of agreement with Iraq on their legal rights and privileges in Iraq. About 16,000 U.S. personnel, including contractors, remain in Iraq under State Department authority, but the State Department has assessed that number as too large for the existing missions and a 25% staffing reduction is planned by the end of 2013.

As Iraq emerges from its U.S.-led transition, it is realigning itself in the region. Some see it moving closer to Iran, and they cite Iraq’s reluctance to call for Iran’s ally, Bashar Al Assad of Syria, to yield power amid major unrest. Others see Iraq trying to reestablish its historic role as a major player in the Arab world, and to do so Iraq has been trying to rebuild relations with Sunni Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Iraq took a large step toward returning to the Arab fold by hosting an Arab League summit on March 27-29, 2012.

Date of Report: July 19, 2012
Number of Pages: 52
Order Number: RS21968
Price: $29.95

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