Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Iraq’s Political Transition After the Surge
Press Release

RELEASE: Iraq’s Political Transition After the Surge

Five Enduring Tensions and Ten Key Challenges

Read the full report (pdf)

WASHINGTON, DC—The Center for American Progress released a new report today entitled, “Iraq’s Political Transition After the Surge: Five Enduring Tensions and Ten Key Challenges.” The report’s authors, Brian Katulis, Marc Lynch, and Peter Juul, outline what political reconciliation in Iraq could look like and the challenges that lie ahead.

Iraq’s internal politics today are a complicated mosaic of competing interests and contradictory trends. Five enduring, unresolved tensions lie beneath the surface, each capturing a part but none the entirety of the political dynamics of post-surge Iraq.

  1. Centralizers vs. de-centralizers. Some Iraqi factions want to see more power placed in the hands of the national government, while others continue to push for more power to be vested in local and provincial governments.
  2. State power holders vs. popular challengers. Certain factions have disproportionately benefited from the national government’s spoils, such as Dawa, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and the Kurdish factions who are part of national government. Some factions that have not benefited from the national government’s increased oil wealth and military power have stronger support in key areas of Iraq such as the Sons of Iraq in central and western Iraq and the Sadrists in central and southern Iraq.
  3. Sunni vs. Shia. Sectarian conflicts are much reduced since high levels of violence in 2006, but the Sunni-Shia sectarian strain endures.
  4. Arab vs. Kurds. The Arab-Kurd division is coming to a head in the unresolved crisis over the status of Kirkuk and other disputed territories.
  5. Religious factions vs. secular factions. Latent tensions remain between Iraqis who are concerned by the religious nature of Iraqi politics versus those who see politics as one facet of advancing enduring religious principles of either Sunni or Shia Islam. Religious minorities such as Christians and Yazidis have suffered from persecution at the hands of other groups in Iraq since 2003.

Iraq will need to overcome numerous hurdles in its political transition before the end of 2009, including two elections and a long list of unresolved power-sharing questions. Not all of the 10 key challenges outlined in this report are of equal magnitude—failure to resolve some would likely lead to major, systemic crisis, while failure on others would simply be suboptimal. Yet all are interconnected, and none have been resolved by the security improvements of the last 18 months or will be meaningfully addressed simply by postponing U.S. troop withdrawals. Ten key challenges ahead for Iraq’s political transition include:

  1. The U.S.-Iraq security agreement
  2. Provincial powers and elections
  3. Refugees and internally displaced persons
  4. Disbanding and integrating militias and other armed groups
  5. Constitutional review
  6. Kirkuk and other disputed territories and Article 140
  7. De-Baathification reform implementation
  8. Amnesty implementation
  9. Oil and revenue sharing laws
  10. State capacity, governance, and anti-corruption

In the months ahead in Iraq, the United States will have to distinguish between those outcomes that are truly catastrophic and those that are simply suboptimal given the limits on U.S. leverage over Iraqi actors—leverage that declines each day as the Iraqi government becomes financially self-sufficient and more assertive. Iraq’s leaders over the next year will increasingly demand greater control over their own affairs. The United States needs to rebalance its overall national security approach by stepping outside of the trenches of intra-Iraqi disputes over power and putting the focus back on its core national security interests.

Read the full report (pdf)

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