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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights

Kenneth Katzman Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Iraq’s stability is threatened by growing hostility among major political factions and communities, fueled in part by a continuing insurgency by Sunni Arab Muslims who resent Shiite political domination. 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 are at odds with 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’ unsuccessful efforts in mid-2012 to try to oust Maliki. Since mid-2012, Iraqi Sunni insurgents linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQ-I), perhaps emboldened by the Sunni-led uprising in Syria, have conducted numerous complex attacks against Shiite religious pilgrims and neighborhoods and Iraqi Security Force (ISF) members. The attacks are testing the ability of the ISF and undermining Maliki’s reputation as a protector of security and stability, while at the same time increasing his popularity within his Shiite base. 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 export-led 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 on December 18, 2011.

The Iraqi government, responsible for its own security and fielding ISF that number nearly 700,000 members, has sought to put behind it the period of U.S. occupation and political and military tutelage. Since the U.S. pullout, U.S. training for Iraq’s security forces through an Office of Security Cooperation—Iraq (OSC-I) and a State Department police development program have languished as a result of Iraqi efforts to emerge from U.S. tutelage. However, the Administration—with increasing Iraqi concurrence—has asserted that the escalating violence necessitates that Iraq rededicate itself to military cooperation with and assistance from the United States. Since August 2012, Iraqi officials have requested expedited delivery of U.S. arms and joint exercises and in December 2012 signed a new defense cooperation agreement with the United States.

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 and may be allowing Iranian arms supply flights to reach Syria by transiting Iraqi airspace. 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: December 13, 2012
Number of Pages: 57
Order Number: RS21968
Price: $29.95

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