Iraq after US pullout – not a doomsday scenario
President Obama met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki today in Washington to discuss the US-Iraq relationship after the final US combat troop pullout this December. Worried pundits foresee the return of rampant terrorism and insurgency, and an Iranian takeover. They're wrong.
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Yes, tensions between ethnic and sectarian groups are likely to continue, particularly in disputed oil-rich border areas or in regions with diverse populations. Bombings and shootings will continue as political extremists try to destabilize Kirkuk, Baghdad, and Mosul.Skip to next paragraph
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Still, the absence of the US military will not necessarily intensify these conflicts. Given the significant financial and political stakes and the growing local and regional pressures on repressive regimes, Iraqi leaders may be forced to make concessions to groups it otherwise opposes.
THE MONITOR'S VIEW: Iraq Prime Minister Maliki must set priorities for the new government
Fears of excessive centralization also may be exaggerated. The government may try to widen its authority. Yet Baghdad would still need to satisfy diverse groups making claims against the state.
For instance, Maliki and his energy guru, Hussain al-Shahristani, may give the executive branch greater control over energy contracts and wealth distribution. But they will be challenged by disgruntled local populations and provincial administrations seeking a greater share of resources and oil wealth. After years of wrangling, the $17 billion deal between Baghdad, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, and Mitsubishi Corporation to develop gas deposits in Basra Province was finally signed because Basra officials, who demanded a greater role, approved it.
Instead of an Iraq breaking apart, we may see a central government that brokers deals with provincial councils and the Kurds to keep the country together. Politically expedient dealmaking may not create a long-term solution to deep-rooted divisions over land and resources. However, it could establish the informal framework needed for Iraqis to negotiate conflict on their own terms.
We are not sorry Saddam Hussein is gone. Fear and intimidation are not the cement that should hold people together. A national identity and shared ambitions can do this, but not at the expense of open society, democratic practices, rule of law, and transparent governance. Iraqis will figure this out.
Dr. Judith S. Yaphe is the distinguished research fellow for the Middle East at the Center for Strategic Research at the National Defense University's Institute for National Strategic Studies. Dr. Denise Natali holds the Minerva Chair at INSS where she focuses on Iraq and regional energy issues. The views expressed here are their own and do not reflect the official policy of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the US government.