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Monday, November 26, 2012

Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Iraq’s stability is threatened by a breakdown in relations among major political factions, a continuing insurgency by Sunni Muslims who resent Shiite political domination, and spillover from increasingly sectarian conflict in Syria. Sunni Arabs, always fearful that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would seek unchallenged power for Shiite factions, accuse him of sidelining high ranking Sunni Arabs from government. Iraq’s Kurds have become increasingly distrustful of Maliki over territorial, political, and economic issues, and are threatening to limit or end their involvement in the central government. The Shiite faction of Moqtada Al Sadr supported the other groups’ efforts in mid-2012 to try to oust Maliki until Iran pressed Sadr to discontinue that action. The infighting, coupled with the emboldening of Iraqi Sunni insurgents by the Sunni-led uprising in Syria, has produced increasingly ambitious attacks by Iraqi Sunni insurgent groups, particularly Al Qaeda in Iraq. These attacks are testing the ability of Iraqi security forces and undermining Maliki’s reputation as an ensurer of security and stability. The violence is intended to reignite all-out sectarian conflict, but the attacks have failed to spark such broad conflict to date. And, the political rift and the violence have not halted governance or prevented oil exportled growth. Iraq is rapidly becoming an ever larger oil producer and exporter.

The continuing violence and governmental dysfunctions have called into question the legacy of U.S. involvement in Iraq. In line with the November 2008 bilateral U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement, President Obama announced on October 21, 2011, that U.S. forces would leave Iraq entirely at the end of 2011. Insufficient Iraqi political support caused the Iraqi leadership to turn down a U.S. proposal to retain some U.S. troops after 2011. The proposal was based on U.S. doubts over the ability of Iraqi security forces to preserve the earlier gains and on a U.S. view that a continued troop presence would ensure U.S. influence beyond 2011. U.S. troops completed the withdrawal by December 18, 2011.

Iraq is responsible for its own security and it security forces number nearly 700,000 members, and it has sought to put behind it the period of U.S. occupation and political and military tutelage. However, the Administration asserts that the ongoing violence necessitates that Iraq rededicate itself to military cooperation with and assistance from the United States, using State and Defense Department programs. These have included U.S. training for Iraq’s security forces through an Office of Security Cooperation—Iraq (OSC-I) and a State Department police development program. To date, these programs have been hampered by Iraqi efforts to emerge from U.S. tutelage: the police training program has withered and OSC-I efforts have been limited by a lack of agreement with Iraq on their legal rights and privileges in Iraq. As of August 2012, in view of the violence, Iraq has requested expedited delivery of U.S. arms as well as joint training.

Although recognizing that Iraq wants to rebuild its relations in the Arab world and in its immediate neighborhood, the United States is seeking to prevent Iraq from falling under the sway of Iran. The Maliki government is inclined toward close relations with the Islamic Republic, but the legacy of Iran-Iraq hostilities, and Arab and Persian differences, limit Iranian influence. Still, Iraq has aligned with Iran’s support for Bashar Al Assad’s regime in Syria. Some see Iraq as aligning with neither Washington nor Tehran, but trying instead to reestablish its historic role as a major player in the Arab world. 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: November 9, 2012
Number of Pages: 57

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