Search Penny Hill Press

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Nearly two years after the 2011 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, increasingly violent sectarian divisions are undermining Iraq’s stability. Sunni Arab Muslims, who resent Shiite political domination and perceived discrimination, have escalated their political opposition to the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki through demonstrations and violence. Iraq’s Kurds are embroiled in separate political disputes with the Baghdad government over territorial, political, and economic issues. The rifts delayed some provincial elections during April-June 2013 and could affect the viability of national elections for a new parliament and government set for April 30, 2014. Maliki is widely expected to seek to retain his post after that vote.

The violent component of Sunni unrest is spearheaded by the Sunni insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq. The group, emboldened by the Sunni-led uprising in Syria as well as perceived discrimination against Sunni Iraqis, is conducting attacks against Shiite neighborhoods, Iraqi Security Force (ISF) members, and Sunni supporters of Maliki with increasing frequency and lethality. The attacks appear intended to reignite all-out sectarian conflict and provoke the fall of the government. To date, the 800,000-person ISF has countered the escalating violence without outside assistance and Iraqi forces have not substantially fractured along sectarian lines. However, a July 2013 major prison break near Baghdad cast doubt on the ISF’s ability to counter the violence that has killed nearly 7,000 Iraqis thus far this year—more than double the figure for all of 2012. And there are indications that some Shiite militias might be reactivating to retaliate for violence against Shiites.

U.S. forces left in December 2011 in line with a November 2008 bilateral U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement. Iraq refused to extend the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, seeking to put behind it the period of U.S. political and military control. Some outside experts and some in Congress have asserted that U.S. influence over Iraq has ebbed since. Program components of what were to be enduring, close security relations—extensive U.S. training for Iraq’s security forces through an Office of Security Cooperation—Iraq (OSC-I) and a State Department police development program—languished during 2011-2013. However, Iraq continued to press to acquire sophisticated U.S. equipment such as F-16 combat aircraft, air defense equipment, and attack helicopters, giving the Administration some leverage over Baghdad. During his visit to Washington, DC on October 29-November 1, 2013, Maliki pressed for accelerated U.S. arms sales as part of an expansion of U.S.-Iraq security cooperation to help Iraq deal with the growing violence.

The Administration and Congress seek to continue to cultivate Iraq as an ally in part to prevent Iraq from falling under the sway of Iran, with which the Maliki government has built close relations. Fearing that a change of regime in Syria will further embolden the Iraqi Sunni opposition, Maliki has not joined U.S. and other Arab state calls for Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to leave office and Iraq has not consistently sought to prevent Iranian overflights of arms deliveries to Syria. Still, the legacy of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, Arab and Persian differences, Iraq’s efforts to reestablish its place in the Arab world, and Maliki’s need to work with senior Iraqi Sunnis limit Iranian influence over the Baghdad government. Iraq took a large step toward returning to the Arab fold by hosting an Arab League summit on March 27-29, 2012, and has substantially repaired relations with Kuwait, the state that Saddam Hussein invaded and occupied in 1990. In June 2013, the relationship with Kuwait helped Iraq emerge from some Saddam-era restrictions under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter.

Date of Report: November 14, 2013
Number of Pages: 50
Order Number: RS21968
Price: $29.95

To Order:

RS21968 .pdf   to use the SECURE SHOPPING CART


Phone 301-253-0881

For email and phone orders, provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing