This piece was co-authored with Adel Albdeewy from Baghdad.
Political Challenges Post-IS
Despite the Iraqi armed force’s successive victories over the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, there remain important challenges for Iraq post IS. Iraq today faces a problem of trust between citizens, their parties, and the state, while ever present social, ethnic, and religious divisions have been compounded by the redrawing of the political map post-IS. The country will need to combine creative national and international efforts to move the country forward and provide peace and stability in the long term.
Understanding the perceptions and visions of the main political parties and groupings in Iraq reveals the complexity of the country even without IS. The country’s traditional political actors such as the National Iraqi Alliance (NIA), the Shia electoral bloc consisting of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and other Shia parties, the National Alliance of Kurdistan, and Ittihad Al Quwa Al Iraqiya will be the leaders of the political process post-IS and thus merit a careful review of each of their present conflicts, objectives, and interests.
Lack of Trust
Iraq is beset by an environment of mistrust between the state and the citizen. The present struggle for leadership, the differences on how to finance and manage the liberated areas, the chaotic reconstruction process of Mosul and other areas, and the future of the disputed territories are all interrelated and result in an environment of deep mistrust.
The crisis of confidence between Iraqis and their state has resulted in decades of exclusionary, marginalizing, and repressive policies that have led to the emergence of reckless uses of power and a considerable gap between citizens and their state.
This lack of trust has caused dispute over the appropriate structure and form of the authority that will govern the relationship between the center and the parties (region and provinces). Today we're witnessing the coexistence of three semi-separate entities within the Iraqi geographical boundaries, each with its own interests and regional and international support networks.
Disputes over the state are coupled with division within each of the main political groups because of the multitude of leaders, visions, and interests. The division within parties has exacerbated Shiite-Shiite conflict. One such example of internal conflict is the competition for leadership within the National Iraqi Alliance (NIA). Sunni-Sunni conflict exists too between opposition figures who didn’t participate in the political process and those who did. Finally, Kurdish-Kurdish internal competition exists between The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
One of the major challenges facing Iraq post-IS is how to govern a pluralistic society with sectarian policies that can address nepotism and the high levels of financial and administrative corruption. Serious obstacles exist to building a sustainable, stable and prosperous Iraq.
Other challenges that will emerge after the liberation of Mosul include the issue of the administration of the Nineveh province, which has considerable ethnic and sectarian diversity and a population that is distributed along national (Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, and Assyrians), religious (Muslims, Christians and Yazidis), and sectarian (Shia and Sunni) lines.
Since these various ethnic and sectarian groups have their own armed factions, there exists a danger of increasing militarization in their search for self-protection. The Kurds, in particular, will test Iraq's ability, to effectively balance its local communities, sectarian and ethnic diversity, and functioning as a federal state.
But the most serious of these challenges is the possible geographical conflict between the center (Baghdad) and the periphery (Kurds) over the fate of the liberated areas from IS. It is expected that the problem of "disputed areas" will only be aggravated in the near future. Kurdish Peshmerga forces have taken control of many disputed areas during the liberation battles, creating a "deferred problem" that threatens open conflict in the future, especially after Masoud Barzani, President of Iraqi Kurdistan, insisted on holding a referendum to decide the fate of Iraqi Kurdistan.
It’s worth noting that the United States and their allies were latecomers in the fight against the so-called Islamic State. The U.S believed that IS., before it declared itself a Caliphate, was a local organization and lacked support among the Iraqi Sunnis. The U.S. had previously organized the Iraqi Sunnis under the command of General David Petraeus through the “awakenings” movement, which sought to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq. Petraeus’ efforts were not long lasting and the Islamic State quickly established a foothold in Iraq and Syria after IS’ break-up of Al Qaeda.
Only after the rapid geopolitical expansion of the caliphate, and in particular the fall of Mosul and the opening of the borders between Iraq and Syria, have the United States taken an interest in forming the International Coalition to defeat IS. In hindsight, IS’ acquisition of weapons from Mosul and Syria were crucial in capturing serious US attention.
After the declaration of the caliphate by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the U.S administration began to recognize a “Sunni crisis” in the region, particularly in Syria and Iraq. Since then, U.S has begun dialogues with neighboring countries and reached regional understandings with both Iran and Saudi Arabia resulting in a new political agreement led by Haider Al-Abadi the current Prime Minister of Iraq.
The rise of IS as an important player in controlling societies and even countries is a result of sectarianism in the region, which is compounded by Iranian-Saudi antagonism, the political vacuum of the Sunni factions in Syria and Iraq, and the policies of the suppression of peaceful demonstrations by authoritarian regimes.
An examination of the socio-political landscape post-IS elucidates a few of the main challenges Iraq will face in the near future. These include a problem of trust between the citizen and the state and the challenge of governing a pluralistic society that has been divided by conflict, borders, and interests. Ultimately, the country will only improve if the politically dominant groups have the desire to promote transitional justice, coordinate the reconstruction of destroyed areas, ensure weapons remain in the hands of the military, build unbiased state institutions, and offer local communities the freedom to pursue their own interests.
The Iraqi government should therefore cooperate with the international community and establish ethnic, national, and regional solidarity against future threats to Iraq and the region.
Adel Albdeewy Ph.D , Professor at The Political Science Department, University of Baghdad. Executive Director of Governance Center for Public Policy. email@example.com
Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, holds a degree in Political Science and Near Eastern Languages and Literature from UC Berkeley. Currently doing his graduate studies at Georgetown University in Contemporary Arab Studies. His work appeared in The Arab Weekly, Middle East Eye, Berkeley Political Review and Foreign Policy Journal.
This piece was edited by Ismael Farooqui, UC Berkeley firstname.lastname@example.org