Now more than a decade after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Iraq remains deeply troubled by dangerous ethnic and sectarian divisions, woeful security conditions, and chronic political instability in Baghdad that has undermined the central government’s efforts to firmly establish its authority throughout the country. Those weaknesses have long prevented Iraq from realizing the potential of its massive oil reserves, and more recently, have exposed the country to an existential threat.

This danger comes from ISIL, a Sunni jihadist movement that over several weeks in June and July managed to gain effective control over something close to one-third of Iraq’s territory.

The Iraqi armed forces, Shiite militias, and the Kurdish military (peshmerga) have managed to halt the advance of ISIL, helped greatly by air support from the U.S. and other international military forces. However, pushing ISIL out of the areas it currently controls will be no easy task.

The militants completely overwhelmed the undisciplined Iraqi soldiers, many of whom simply shed their uniforms, dropped their weapons, and fled the battlefield. As a result, the militants managed to rapidly take over key towns in the north of Iraq, and more importantly, gained access to U.S.-donated arms, ammunition, advanced weaponry, and vehicles that were abandoned by retreating Iraqi troops.

Iraq’s track record does not offer much cause for optimism.

Any hope of pushing the group back and restoring government control over captured territory will, at a minimum, require the formation of a stable, inclusive administration in Baghdad. On that score, Iraq’s track record does not offer much cause for optimism.

The task of pulling together a coalition that includes Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish factions was handed to Haider al-Abadi, a member of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party. A political moderate and former exile, Abadi’s chief political asset is the fact that, unlike Maliki, he has done nothing to alienate the non-Shiite groups on whose support the stability of his government will depend.

The new government, which was formed in haste against a backdrop of crisis, meets the basic criteria for inclusiveness that is essential to creating even the possibility of stability. However, it is one thing to form a national unity government, but quite another to hold it together.

In The Spotlight

The jihadist incursion has further heightened sectarian tensions, with many Shiites openly voicing suspicions that their Sunni compatriots are only too willing to collaborate with ISIL. Likewise, the assignment of the Defense and Interior portfolios, a perennial source of conflict between the Shiite and Sunni blocs, has not yet been determined.

At the same time, the occupation of the disputed city of Kirkuk by Kurdish military forces at the height of the jihadist incursion in June also poses a potential obstacle to sustained cooperation between Kurdish and Sunni political forces. There also is the still-unresolved issue of the legality of oil contracts issued by the KRG without the approval of the Ministry of Oil, and a related controversy over the KAR’s direct exports of oil produced in the Kurdish region.

Abadi has devised a roadmap to resolve the main issues concerning Kurdish oil investments and territorial disputes. But the Kurds are demanding action within three months, a time frame that would be logistically difficult and politically dangerous even under stable conditions.

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The PRS Group
About The Author The PRS Group
The PRS Group is a leading global provider of political and country risk analysis and forecasts, covering 140 countries. Based on proprietary, quantitative risk models, the firm's clientele includes financial institutions, multilateral agencies, and trans-national firms.




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