Debate Club

Iraq Stands on the Brink of Disaster

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By ending America's military presence in Iraq, President Obama has irresponsibly endangered that country's progress in internal security, sectarian reconciliation, and democratic reform—progress that U.S. troops had fought hard to facilitate.

President Bush's 2007 troop surge helped create the stable space needed for Iraq's sectarian groups to begin reconciling politically. In late 2010, political blocs forged the "Erbil Agreement," a power-sharing breakthrough that ended the long standoff following Iraq's parliamentary elections, and enabled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his pro-Shiite Dawa party to form a government.

[Why America Is More Violent Than Other Democracies.]

Under Obama's watch, however, Maliki failed to fully implement the Erbil Agreement, and concentrated his hold on power by promoting a partisan military that protects sectarian interests, and fostering an arbitrary and corrupt judiciary system. He also personally assumed key ministry positions on defense, interior security, and national security—or delegated these roles, without parliamentary consent, to diehard loyalists. More recently, he had hundreds of Sunni Iraqis arrested for allegedly being former Ba'ath Party members.

What's troubling is that, throughout all this, America's stabilizing military presence in Iraq had afforded the Obama administration no small amount of political leverage on key players in Baghdad—leverage that the President declined to use as Maliki brazenly consolidated power.

Obama's hands-off approach to Iraq became apparent as talks faltered for a so-called "security agreement" to permit a small force of U.S. troops to remain after 2011. McClatchy Newspapers reported that, according to U.S. government records, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden apparently remained disengaged from diplomatic talks for a new security agreement, and had virtually no direct contact with Maliki this year prior to the October 2011 Iraq withdrawal announcement.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the turmoil in the Middle East.]

At the end of 2011, as the last U.S. troops prepared to depart, Iraqi political leaders issued a blunt warning. "Iraq today stands on the brink of disaster," wrote Ayad Allawi, the former Shiite prime minister who now leads the opposition Iraqiya coalition, Usama al-Najaifi, the Sunni speaker of Iraq's parliament, and Rafe al-Essawi, the Sunni Iraqi finance minister, in The New York Times. They cautioned that if the Obama administration continues to unconditionally support the Maliki government, Iraq will move "toward a sectarian autocracy that carries with it the threat of devastating civil war."

Given what's at stake for America in Iraq and the wider Middle East, Washington should work with Baghdad to forge, at a minimum, new legal arrangements to cooperate on military, intelligence, counterterrorism, and other security matters. At the same time, Obama must find ways to pressure, publicly and privately, Maliki to share power with rival political blocs, and avoid a new sectarian civil war. That task is made all the harder now that U.S. troops have left Iraq.

Robert Zarate

About Robert Zarate Policy Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative

Tags
Iraq
Iraq war (2003-2011)
military
military strategy
Obama administration
Obama, Barack

Other Arguments

#2
23 Pts
It's Already Too Late in Iraq

No – It's Already Too Late in Iraq

Phyllis Bennis Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies

#3
9 Pts
We Should Have Left Iraq Far Sooner

No – We Should Have Left Iraq Far Sooner

Christopher Preble Vice President for Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute

#4
6 Pts
Iraq Is Still A Work in Progress

Yes – Iraq Is Still A Work in Progress

Ilan Berman Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council

#5
5 Pts
We Should Have Left Iraq After Saddam Hussein Died

No – We Should Have Left Iraq After Saddam Hussein Died

Daniel J. Gallington Senior Policy and Program Adviser at the George C. Marshall Institute

#6
3 Pts
American Counter-terrorism Efforts Will Suffer

Yes – American Counter-terrorism Efforts Will Suffer

Helle Dale Senior Fellow in Public Diplomacy Studies at the Heritage Foundation

#7
3 Pts
Withdrawal Served Obama's Electoral Agenda

Yes – Withdrawal Served Obama's Electoral Agenda

Michele Dunne Director of the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East

#8
1 Pts
Back to Kurdistan

Yes – Back to Kurdistan

Thomas Henriksen Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and at the U.S. Joint Special Operations University

#9
1 Pts
U.S. Withdrawal Came at Exactly the Right Time

No – U.S. Withdrawal Came at Exactly the Right Time

Lawrence J. Korb Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress

#10
-3 Pts
Obama Traded Stability in Iraq for Votes

Yes – Obama Traded Stability in Iraq for Votes

Danielle Pletka Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute

#11
-12 Pts
The Debate Over the Withdrawal Is Misplaced

No – The Debate Over the Withdrawal Is Misplaced

Daniel Gouré Vice President at the Lexington Institute

#12
-12 Pts
The War in Iraq Was a Mistake From the Beginning

No – The War in Iraq Was a Mistake From the Beginning

Dennis Kucinich U.S. Representative, Ohio's 10th District

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