Day: May 13, 2014

Between Iraq and a hard place

I’ve been too busy with meetings in New York yesterday and moderating a panel on the Iraq elections this morning to write much (not to mention my visit with grandson Ethan Isaac in Atlanta over the weekend).  So I’m grateful for this quickly produced Middle East Institute podcast of the Iraq panel.  I was joined for the occasion by former Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, now businessman (formerly Iraqi civil servant) Saif Abdul-Rahman, SAIS scholar Abbas Kadhim and National Defense University professor Denise Natali.

It seemed to me the bottom lines were these:

  1. The electoral process so far has gone better than expected, with strong turnout (60%) and relatively few complaints (854);
  2. The anticipated good but not overwhelming results for Prime Minister Maliki do not ensure the hat trick he seeks, but they make him the man to beat, in particular in intra-Shia negotiations;
  3. The government formation process will be difficult and possibly prolonged, leaving Maliki in power with the advantages of incumbency;
  4. The security conditions under which the process will unfold are precarious in several central provinces, including not only Anbar but also Saladin and Diyala;
  5. The regional conditions are also precarious, with Syria unraveling and high tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia;
  6. Because of its internal fault lines, Iraq is highly vulnerable to external pressures (mainly from Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia), including some that could lead in the direction of state failure.

Iraqis have still not created a state that all its sects and ethnicities feel comfortable in.  It needs a stronger political compact.  The Kurds are on the fiscal ropes and need a deal with Baghdad, but independence sentiment is growing.  Some Sunni-majority provinces are seeking “region” status; why shouldn’t they have it, consistent with the constitution?

Extremists are taking advantage of the tense internal situation in ways that pose real threats to US interests.  Washington should pay more attention than it does, not only to Iraq’s immediate military and intelligence requirements but also to fulfilling civilian aspects of the strategic framework agreement, which remains far short of the implementation it merits.

Those are the points that stick in my mind.  There is much more of merit where that came from.  Listening to the whole thing won’t be the worst 90 minutes you’ve indulged in lately.  I commend it to you!

Tags : , , , , ,