With ISIS struggling to maintain control of the Old City portion of Mosul, the capital of the so-called “Caliphate”, the time has almost arrived where Iraqis can look towards the future of their country. And what they see may not be pleasant.
A large part of the country’s infrastructure lies in rubble. Over four million people within the country are displaced. Militias taking orders from Tehran are widespread. Many cities have little to no electricity or running water. Roads are impassable.
But it gets worse. While the existence of ISIS – or Daesh, as the Iraqi military calls the terrorist group – united all of the factions of Iraq’s diverse population, the one common thread linking these groups will soon be gone. Kurds in the north will want to be rewarded for assisting in the fight against ISIS. Indeed, Peshmerga fighters – the armed forces of the autonomous state of Iraqi Kurdistan – were among the most effective fighters against ISIS. Requests for either greater autonomy or even statehood for an independent Kurdistan will be sure to come soon, requests the weak government in Baghdad will be loathe to agree to. To top matters off, while ISIS has been severely weakened in Iraq, it remains a much stronger entity in neighboring Syria, a country currently torn between western-backed rebels, a genocidal regime headed by the Assad family and backed by Putin, and multiple terrorist groups. Added to this toxic mess are Iranian militias sent to fight on behalf of the Assad regime as well as Hezbollah. Conflicts in the Middle East have a nasty habit of refusing to remain within state borders.
So a weak government in Iraq, beset by corruption, inefficiency, bureaucracy, and an incredibly divided population will have to rebuild a country – after showing no capacity of being able to do so – while ISIS remains active in one neighboring country, and the Ayatollah meddles from the other. What steps can the Iraqi government, headed by Haider al-Abadi, take to ensure stability and peace?
The first step should be to allow American soldiers to remain in the country. Under Nouri al-Maliki – al-Abadi’s predecessor – pressure was put on President Obama to remove soldiers from Iraqi soil as soon as possible. This, coupled with campaign promises Obama made during both his initial run for the presidency and his re-election campaign, contributed to a hasty pullout before Iraq was ready, both militarily and governmentally. The result was ISIS quickly seizing control of a third of the country. The good news is that al-Abadi and President Trump have already talked, with the latter assuring his Iraqi counterpart of his intention to leave troops in the country and support the government in Baghdad.
While important, leaving American boots on the ground doesn’t work as a long-term solution. Eventually Iraq will have to reform itself to adequately represent all of its various religions, eliminate corruption, and end ethnic groups. A second important step would be increasing federalization within the country. Creation of a Kurdish, Sunni, and Shi’ite state with significant degrees of autonomy would allow each group to govern themselves as they see fit, while all still remain aligned under a nominal government in Baghdad. The artificial borders Iraq has today were not constructed with ethnicities in mind; federalization could help solve that problem by allowing each group increased control over their own affairs as opposed to having a one-size-fits-all government in Baghdad legislating for many groups of people with even more different faiths and belief structures.
Lastly, al-Abadi should consider looking towards the government of nearby Lebanon. Lebanon has a unique government in that certain positions are held for members of certain faiths. While clumsy and sometimes leading to gridlock, this system at least ensures all groups are represented. Rather than holding certain positions for members of various faiths, perhaps a modified version of this system where each parliament needs to meet a threshold percentage of members from each faith or ethnicity in order to be sworn in could work in Iraq. Similar systems have been put into place in parliamentary democracies throughout the world to increase female membership in government and have worked well.
Iraq has been torn by warfare for the majority of the past two decades. Its people are exhausted and tired of the constant fighting, yet each time when stability seems within reach, it disappears. Hopefully the current Iraqi government can learn from the past, and use those lessons to create a more stable future.
Featured photo by tightsqueez
Christopher Gundermann is a sophomore at the college of William and Mary and is the Director of Operations for the Monitor Journal of International Studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org