Presented by Lapham's Quarterly and the Institute for the Future of the Book

International support for Iraqi reconstruction has been tepid. International donors pledged $13.5 billion to support reconstruction, but less than $4 billion has been delivered. An important agreement with the Paris Club relieved a significant amount of Iraq’s government debt and put the country on firmer financial footing. But the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, hold large amounts of Iraqi debt that they have not forgiven. The United States is currently working with the United Nations and other partners to fashion the “International Compact” on Iraq. The goal is to provide Iraqis with greater debt relief and credits from the Gulf States, as well as to deliver on pledged aid from international donors. In return, the Iraqi government will agree to achieve certain economic reform milestones, such as building anticorruption measures into Iraqi institutions, adopting a fair legal framework for foreign investors, and reaching economic self-sufficiency by 2012. Several U.S. and international officials told us that the compact could be an opportunity to seek greater international engagement in the country.

The Region

The policies and actions of Iraq’s neighbors greatly influence its stability and prosperity. No country in the region wants a chaotic Iraq. Yet Iraq’s neighbors are doing little to help it, and some are undercutting its stability. Iraqis complain that neighbors are meddling in their affairs. When asked which of Iraq’s neighbors are intervening in Iraq, one senior Iraqi official replied, “All of them.”

The situation in Iraq is linked with events in the region. U.S. efforts in Afghanistan have been complicated by the overriding focus of U.S. attention and resources on Iraq. Several Iraqi, U.S., and international officials commented to us that Iraqi opposition to the United States— and support for Sadr—spiked in the aftermath of Israel’s bombing campaign in Lebanon. The actions of Syria and Iran in Iraq are often tied to their broader concerns with the United States. Many Sunni Arab states are concerned about rising Iranian influence in Iraq and the region. Most of the region’s countries are wary of U.S. efforts to promote democracy in Iraq and the Middle East.

Neighboring States

IRAN. Of all the neighbors, Iran has the most leverage in Iraq. Iran has long-standing ties to many Iraqi Shia politicians, many of whom were exiled to Iran during the Saddam Hussein regime. Iran has provided arms, financial support, and training for Shiite militias within Iraq, as well as political support for Shia parties. There are also reports that Iran has supplied improvised explosive devices to groups—including Sunni Arab insurgents—that attack U.S. forces. The Iranian border with Iraq is porous, and millions of Iranians travel to Iraq each year to visit Shia holy sites. Many Iraqis spoke of Iranian meddling, and Sunnis took a particularly alarmist view. One leading Sunni politician told us, “If you turn over any stone in Iraq today, you will find Iran underneath.” U.S., Iraqi, and international officials also commented on the range of tensions between the United States and Iran, including Iran’s nuclear program, Iran’s support for terrorism, Iran’s influence in Lebanon and the region, and Iran’s influence in Iraq. Iran appears content for the U.S. military to be tied down in Iraq, a position that limits U.S. options in addressing Iran’s nuclear program and allows Iran leverage over stability in Iraq. Proposed talks between Iran and the United States about the situation in Iraq have not taken place. One Iraqi official told us: “Iran is negotiating with the United States in the streets of Baghdad.”

SYRIA. Syria is also playing a counterproductive role. Iraqis are upset about what they perceive as Syrian support for efforts to undermine the Iraqi government. The Syrian role is not so much to take active measures as to countenance malign neglect: the Syrians look the other way as arms and foreign fighters flow across their border into Iraq, and former Baathist leaders find a safe haven within Syria. Like Iran, Syria is content to see the United States tied down in Iraq. That said, the Syrians have indicated that they want a dialogue with the United States, and in November 2006 agreed to restore diplomatic relations with Iraq after a 24-year break.

SAUDI ARABIA AND THE GULF STATES. These countries for the most part have been passive and disengaged. They have declined to provide debt relief or substantial economic assistance to the Iraqi government. Several Iraqi Sunni Arab politicians complained that Saudi Arabia has not provided political support for their fellow Sunnis within Iraq. One observed that Saudi Arabia did not even send a letter when the Iraqi government was formed, whereas Iran has an ambassador in Iraq. Funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, even as those governments help facilitate U.S. military operations in Iraq by providing basing and overflight rights and by cooperating on intelligence issues. As worries about Iraq increase, the Gulf States are becoming more active. The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have hosted meetings in support of the International Compact. Saudi Arabia recently took the positive step of hosting a conference of Iraqi religious leaders in Mecca. Several Gulf States have helped foster dialogue with Iraq’s Sunni Arab population. While the Gulf States are not proponents of democracy in Iraq, they worry about the direction of events: - battle-hardened insurgents from Iraq could pose a threat to their own internal stability, and the growth of Iranian influence in the region is deeply troubling to them.

TURKEY. Turkish policy toward Iraq is focused on discouraging Kurdish nationalism, which is seen as an existential threat to Turkey’s own internal stability. The Turks have supported the Turkmen minority within Iraq and have used their influence to try to block the incorporation of Kirkuk into Iraqi Kurdistan. At the same time, Turkish companies have invested in Kurdish areas in northern Iraq, and Turkish and Kurdish leaders have sought constructive engagement on political, security, and economic issues. The Turks are deeply concerned about the operations of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK)—a terrorist group based in northern Iraq that has killed thousands of Turks. They are upset that the United States and Iraq have not targeted the PKK more aggressively. The Turks have threatened to go after the PKK themselves, and have made several forays across the border into Iraq.

JORDAN AND EGYPT. Both Jordan and Egypt have provided some assistance for the Iraqi government. Jordan has trained thousands of Iraqi police, has an ambassador in Baghdad, and King Abdullah recently hosted a meeting in Amman between President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki. Egypt has provided some limited Iraqi army training. Both Jordan and Egypt have facilitated U.S. military operations—Jordan by allowing overflight and search-and-rescue operations, Egypt by allowing overflight and Suez Canal transits; both provide important cooperation on intelligence. Jordan is currently home to 700,000 Iraqi refugees (equal to 10 percent of its population) and fears a flood of many more. Both Jordan and Egypt are concerned about the position of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and want constitutional reforms in Iraq to bolster the Sunni community. They also fear the return of insurgents to their countries.

The International Community

The international community beyond the United Kingdom and our other coalition partners has played a limited role in Iraq. The United Nations—acting under Security Council Resolution 1546—has a small presence in Iraq; it has assisted in holding elections, drafting the constitution, organizing the government, and building institutions. The World Bank, which has committed a limited number of resources, has one and sometimes two staff in Iraq. The European Union has a representative there.

Several U.S.-based and international nongovernmental organizations have done excellent work within Iraq, operating under great hardship. Both Iraqi and international nongovernmental organizations play an important role in reaching across sectarian lines to enhance dialogue and understanding, and several U.S.-based organizations have employed substantial resources to help Iraqis develop their democracy. However, the participation of international nongovernmental organizations is constrained by the lack of security, and their Iraqi counterparts face a cumbersome and often politicized process of registration with the government.

The United Kingdom has dedicated an extraordinary amount of resources to Iraq and has made great sacrifices. In addition to 7,200 troops, the United Kingdom has a substantial diplomatic presence, particularly in Basra and the Iraqi southeast. The United Kingdom has been an active and key player at every stage of Iraq’s political development. U.K. officials told us that they remain committed to working for stability in Iraq, and will reduce their commitment of troops and resources in response to the situation on the ground.

  • All Comments ( 2 )
  • Page Comments ( 0 )
  • Paragraph Comments ( 2 )

Comments: All (Paragraph & Page)