IRAQ 2012: PORTENTS AND POSSIBILITIES
After nearly nine years, the U.S. military mission in Iraq came to an end on December 19, 2011, with the departure of the last U.S. Forces-Iraq (USF-I) personnel on December 19, 2011. The military’s withdrawal completed a multiyear transition process that saw the Department of State (DoS) assume a plethora of new responsibilities. Today, DoS’s expanded role in Iraq transcends the traditional boundaries of diplomacy and development assistance, forcing it to manage a sprawling mission of unprecedented size and unrivaled complexity amid a still-volatile security environment.
The Iraq the U.S. military left behind is an ethnically and religiously diverse democracy, with one of the world’s fastest growing economies, fueled by a reemerging oil sector and fed by growing foreign investment. But serious problems persist. Just hours after the last U.S. troops crossed the Kuwaiti border, a new political crisis erupted when a criminal court in Baghdad issued an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni, in connection with his alleged involvement in political assassinations— charges that al-Hashemi quickly and publicly denied.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shia, has demanded that al-Hashemi return from the Kurdistan Region (where he is currently sheltering) to face justice in a Baghdad courtroom, a proposal that the Vice President refused, asserting that any trial in Baghdad would be politically compromised.
Almost at the same time as the al-Hashemi allegations, the Prime Minister sought to have one of his Deputy Prime Ministers, Salih al-Mutlaq, also a Sunni, removed by the Council of Representatives (CoR).
These political eruptions portend what may be a very difficult year, as the Government of Iraq (GOI) faces an array of interconnected challenges, each of which potentially could undermine the country’s stability:
• Governance. The Iraqi Constitution left ambiguous the precise contours of the relationship between the federal government and its constituent parts. Exacerbating this legal uncertainty is the lack of an accepted power-sharing modus vivendi based on mutual consent among the major political blocs. These issues surfaced this quarter when the Sunni provinces of Salah Al-Din and Anbar and the heterogeneous province of Diyala sought greater autonomy from Baghdad by seeking region status, just as the Shia province of Basrah has done in years past. Although the crisis has abated, the federalism questions inherent in apportioning power between Baghdad and the provinces remain unresolved.
• Security. While the total number of Iraqis killed in 2011—2,645—is down about 1,000 from the preceding year, this quarter’s mass-casualty attacks, many of which targeted Shia communities, stand as a stark reminder of the country’s still dangerous security situation. Despite recent indications suggesting that some insurgent groups, such as the Iranian-backed Shia militia Assaib Ahl al-Haq (or “League of the Righteous”) may be laying down their arms to join the political process, others, including al-Qaeda-affiliated Sunni groups, remain committed to using violence to achieve their goals. Striking a balance between reconciliation and accountability remains one of the GOI’s most vexing challenges.
• Economy. The GOI appears to be on the verge of enacting a $100.1 billion budget for 2012, its largest ever. Iraq’s economy still depends overwhelmingly on its hydrocarbon sector, and the GOI’s nascent efforts at economic diversification remain paltry. High unemployment (estimated at 15%–30%) burdens the economy, with public-sector jobs often the only ones available. Further, the dominant role played by state spending increases the potential risk of inflation, a problem that Iraq has largely managed to avoid since 2003.
• Corruption. As this Report’s “Focus on Corruption” amply demonstrates, the problem of public corruption remains one of the GOI’s foremost challenges. Iraq’s anticorruption officials are still regularly targeted by insurgents. This quarter, at least 2 judges were assassinated and 32 anticorruption officials were killed, illustrating the lethal operating environment faced daily by Iraq’s rule-of-law institutions.