Don't Write Off Iraq
- Bilal Wahab, Barbara A. Leaf
- Content Type
- Policy Brief
- The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
- Even as Baghdad works to rein in militias that invite outside attacks, Washington needs to be patient with the
country’s contradictions in the near term and give space for it to exert sovereignty in the long term.
As President Trump met with Iraqi president Barham Salih today on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly,
they were no doubt buoyed by their governments’ mutual conclusion that the recent attack on Saudi oil facilities
in Abqaiq did not originate from Iraq. Initial concerns about that possibility were well founded—a previous attack
on a major Saudi pipeline was carried out from Iraqi territory this May, and multiple Iraqi militia facilities have
been struck since June, reportedly by Israel. Each of these developments was linked to Shia “special groups” with
known ties to Iran.
On July 1, Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdulmahdi ordered these and other militias to fold themselves under state
authority, but so far he has been unable to impose order on them. The government has also failed to prevent
them from threatening neighboring countries at Iran’s presumed behest—an especially dangerous lapse given
that Iraqi authorities cannot protect the territory these militias hold from external retaliation.
To keep other countries from turning Iraq into a proxy battleground, Baghdad needs to rein in the unruliest
militias. This is a tall order because Tehran has spent fifteen years building them into a parallel force of its own.
Given the willingness these “special groups” have shown when asked to attack U.S. troops, fight on the Assad
regime’s behalf in Syria, or secure other Iranian interests, they risk implicating Iraq in Tehran’s regional
confrontations with the United States, Saudi Arabia, and/or Israel.
- Foreign Policy, Bilateral Relations, Non State Actors, Proxy War
- Political Geography
- Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United States of America, Gulf Nations