September 25, 2013
Iraq: 2014 and Beyond
Moderator: Haleh Esfandiari, Director of Middle East Program, Woodrow Wilson Center
Spearker: Feisal al-Istrabadi, Director, Center for the Study of the Middle East, Professor of the practice of International Law, University of Indiana, and former Iraqi representative to the UN (2004-07)
Since 2011 the annual death toll in Iraq has been on the rise. As of today there have been over 4,000 killings this year. This seems to confirm that 2013 will be noticeably bloodier than the ones before it; in 2012 there were 4,574 total deaths throughout the country and 4,147 in 2011. Prof. Istrabadi believes that the increase in violence signals the reemergence of sectarian conflict, similar to that which shook the country in 2006 and 2007. He also predicted that 2014 and the years ahead will bring further violence and instability to the country.
Prof. Istrabadi argued that the resurgence in violence marks the breakdown of the “exclusive elite pact” between the country’s ruling party members, that divided up the post-U.S. invasion spoils along sectarian lines resulting in a Kurdish President, a Shiite Prime Minister, and a Sunni speaker in the parliament. Since this pact was made in 2005 an effort has been made by the Shia and Kurdish political elite to marginalize the Sunni lead parliament and strip it of all legislative and authoritative powers, while they themselves expand their powers. The parliament was stripped of its power to introduce legislation, its power to summon ministers has been removed, and the judiciary is no longer required to explain its rulings. Prof. Istrabadi indicated that these new decrees, coupled with the recent Supreme Court decision to allow Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to run for a third term, are evidence of both the executive branch’s expanding powers over the judiciary and the desire of the entrenched government to abandon democratic principles. The actions committed by Maliki and the Supreme Court coincided with extremely low provincial election turnouts in 2013, Prof. Istrabadi cited a 30-40% turnout, and noted demands by some Sunni governors for the establishment of an autonomous Sunni region(s) in the South. These demands question the legitimacy of the government and threaten the integrity of the state, paving the way for a resurgence of conflict and violence.
As the government in Baghdad is intent on consolidating the government’s power and Sunni lead groups are intent on decentralizing it, the future of Iraq seems destined for further conflict and possibly civil war. The reactions from the both the U.S. and Iraq’s Kurdish politicians could play a great role in shaping the country’s future. However, Prof. Istrabadi has little faith in the U.S. doing anything but siding with Maliki and the entrenched government; he fully expects the U.S. to support Maliki’s run for a third term as Prime Minister strictly for the sake of maintaining a sense of stability and continuity. The Kurds however have the option of either continuing to work with the government in Baghdad or work with tribal sheikhs in the north, some of whom have asked for membership in the Kurds political party, and follow the Sunnis lead and push for an autonomous region in the north. For years Turkey, Iraq, and Iran have been wary of establishing an autonomous Kurdistan state; a multi-ethnic, multi-religious Republic of Northern Iraq could be much more palatable though. Whatever actions are taken Prof. Istrabadi made it clear that Iraq is not on a path to prosperity, the current political framework has no room for the rule of law, scaring away foreign investors, and is leading the country back toward strict authoritarian rule.