Washington, D.C. — With the Islamic State in retreat, the United States needs a strategy focused on civilian engagement to help Iraq forge a path toward peace and stability, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress.
Iraq remains on the front lines of three interlocking challenges: a worldwide fight against terrorism, a geopolitical competition to prevent Iran from dominating Iraq and the region, and a struggle within states and communities to achieve peaceful coexistence across ethnic and sectarian divides.
The United States has a stake in each of these struggles and in Iraq’s future after the Islamic State. The report recommends a U.S. policy approach built on two imperatives: sustained engagement and stabilizing competition. Sustained engagement should increasingly center on civilian, political, economic, and humanitarian outreach, including direct aid to stabilize liberated areas to help displaced Iraqis return home. The report also recommends a follow-on U.S. military training mission. Stabilizing competition means pushing back against Iran primarily by empowering Iraqis to assert their own independence through strong national institutions and by mediating improved relations with Iraq’s Arab neighbors to create a counterweight to Tehran.
While Iraq is still at risk of lapsing into a Sunni insurgency, ethnosectarian conflict, or deepening Iranian domination, there is also a significant chance that Iraq could defy the odds to gain a measure of stability, the report says. The United States can and must advance its interests and values by making a sustained and sustainable investment in Iraqi’s military success and political stability.
“During interviews, Iraqi leaders expressed widespread support for continued U.S. civilian and military presence but also a near total lack of clarity about America’s plans beyond counterterrorism,” said Daniel Benaim, a co-author of the report. Based on interviews with Iraqi political leaders, security officials, and academic experts as well as U.S. and international officials, the report examines U.S. policy options and calls for a sustained U.S. role in Iraq in order to prevent a relapse into conflict. An Iraq that finds realistic solutions to its political and security challenges can be a vital building block for a more stable Middle East and a more coherent U.S. strategy, the report concludes.
Read the report: “Engage and Compete: America and Iraq After the Islamic State” by Daniel Benaim and Hardin Lang.
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