What are the roots cause the continued Iraq crisis? What are the implications of Iraq’s crisis for the region? What are the solutions? Answering these questions is vital since the political developments of the last five years in Iraq have transgressed their domestic arena and affected the entire region as well as international peace and security. Whereas, Iraq's traditional threats to the region were emanated from its military extremism, suppression of the ethnic groups, initiating wars, and triggering arms race, the new threats are mostly rooted in internal ethnic-political rivalries over the fulfilment of the current power vacuum, the spread of terrorist and violent activities, conflict of interests among the involved regional and global powers, and generally the challenges that are related to Iraq’s transformation into a new political-security order. The complexities of Iraq's power and politics, together with the continued interests of trans-regional powers in the region, require an amount of cooperation between regional actors and outside powers to resolve the Iraq crisis. Through the last five years, lack of such cooperation has been costly for all involved parties and a source of continued instability in the region.
IRAQ’S CHALLENGES OF TRANSFORMATION
The Bush administration conducted the Iraqi war in March 2003 in order to bring peace and security to the Middle East and thereby to the US. There have been ups and downs in the five-year Iraqi crisis. Many fortunate and unfortunate events have occurred. Among the fortunate is the Iraqi political transformation through holding several elections and at the top the ratification of the Iraqi Constitution, subsequently the establishment of the Iraqi permanent government. Among the unfortunates is the continued sectarian violence and growing political division within the Iraqi society, which have brought about insecurity and instability for the entire Middle East region. The political developments in post-invasion Iraq have changed the nature of power and politics in the post 9/11 Middle East. In addition to the past conventional issues such as international energy security, security of Israel and the US traditional allies, issues related to human security and nations' affairs have become more significant in today's Middle East. The new developments have demonstrated that the foreign involved powers, by using force or conducting wars, will not unlike the past be able to achieve their goals or desired strategies. The Iraq crisis has disclosed the complexities of Middle East politics as well as the failure of outside powers' to terminate any regional crisis without considering regional aspect of the crisis. With the new issues taking more prominence, it appears that there should be an amount of cooperation between trans-regional powers and regional actors working together in order to resolve any regional crises.
Beyond its domestic aspect, the Iraq political developments and transformation process have affected the political situations in the neighboring countries and the entire region. At present, Iraq is transforming to a new political era in which some new political criteria are taking more prominent. One important step in this regard is the necessity of defining a new power foundation, thereby creating a balanced power division between various ethnic-political factions in the central government. For long years, the presence of a dominated Sunni minority at the top of Iraq's power structure provided the grounds for spread of tension and instability not only in Iraq's domestic affairs but in its relations with the neighboring countries. The result was the brutal suppression of political factions such as the Kurds and Shias, spreading terror, violence and distrust atmosphere, as well as the militaristic adventures of the Ba'athist regime to aggrieve the neighbors.(1) Iran and Kuwait were two victims of that situation. Ceasing the grounds of tension and distrust, the first step in Iraq's transformation process must therefore be taken by diminishing this disproportionate traditional order. The new conditions require redefining the role of various political factions in Iraq's power structure.
Meanwhile, Iraq's transformation process necessitates a change in the country's regional and international relations. At present, the international community and neighboring states are interested to see an Iraq which not only presents any threats to the regional peace and security, but its new role and function can help to constructively build peace and security in the region. Owing to its sources of power such as vast energy sources, geopolitics, size and population, religious-cultural foundations, etc., Iraq is an important country in the region to the extent that its role can not be ignored in the region's new political, security and economic arrangements. The controversial issue is, however, how Iraq's new role and posturing should be defined in the new Middle East? In this context, there is controversy between regional and global perspectives. On the one hand, regional states such as Iran, which has suffered from Iraq's past militaristic and advanturistic policies, regard the new situations as a turning point in which they seek to define a new definition for Iraq in the regional political-security architectures, thereby preserving their national security and interests. Likewise, the involved foreign powers, especially the United States, by changing Iraq’s traditional power structure are trying to secure their national interests. Therefore, the Iraqi crisis is sharply becoming a scene in which each involved side attempts to enhance its own favored political-security order.
In post-invasion Iraq, one of the main roots of tension is the continued presence of the occupation forces which has, in turn, brought about distrust in relations between nations and governments in the region. This presence has not only led to further split and distrust within the Iraqi sects and political factions, something that was first appeared in exploding the Samara's sacred Shrines which triggered a religious war, but provided a pretext for the terrorist and violent-seeking groups to generate chaos and instability by taking advantage of the existing potentials inside the Iraqi society. This situation has, in turn, resulted in the inefficiency of the current Iraqi Shiite government in its attempts to bring peace and stability, subsequently failing the Americans' efforts to terminate Iraq's current insecurity.
Meanwhile, the US confronting policy with respect to the regional states has intensified instability and distrust in the entire region. Pursuing authoritative policies such as the "regime change" policy toward Iran and Syria on the one hand, and initiatives such as initiating the Greater Middle East Plan, together with its so-called sophisticated principles such as rapid democratization, which in turn questions the legitimacy of even US traditional allies in the Arab Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt on the other, caused further instability in the region.(2) As regards rapid democratization, as the political developments through the last 5 years have demonstrated, undoubtedly, the US perception of democratization, combined with Western criteria and principles, will not find common discourse and receptive audience among the Iraqi nation or the people in other places in the region. This is especially due to the Islamic and also distinct cultural-historical backgrounds of Middle Eastern nations in compare with the Western values and political-social principles. As the political situations in post-invasion Iraq has shown, beyond the US perception, the elements of ideology and religion have roots in Iraq’s society, and are the determining factors in influencing the Iraq crisis.
Meanwhile, the manipulative policies of the United States in redressing the structure of power and politics in the region have brought about further alianation among the nations and governments in the region toward the real aims and strategies of the United States in Iraq. The prevailing believe in the region is that the United States, given its strategic interests especially in the Persian Gulf, will seek to stay in the region. For some regional states such as Iran, the US long-term presence will imbalance the region’s natural power equations. Because it will lead to further distrust between regional states which have distinct political-security interests. In this regard, the security dependence of some of the regional regimes on the US security umbrella will further complicate the relations between these regimes before their peoples. Dependency on foreigners has always been an issue of bringing illegitimacy for the regional regimes.
IRAQI CRISIS: REGINAL IMPLICATIONS
The five-year long war in Iraq has disclosed some of the country’s covert challenges of state-building in the region. These challenges include:
One of the most immediate effects of the Iraq war is the decline of the US status and influence among the nations and regimes of the region. The war ramifications such as the eruption of insecurity and instability, extension of ethnic-religious rivalries, and an uncertain outlook of prosperity and progress, have generally changed masses’ perceptions of the US role and intentions in Iraq and the region. At the start of the war, the general perception and expectation from the US role in the region were often focused on changing the political-economic conditions, and generally providing of a better daily life. From the masses’ standpoint, therefore, not only has the US presence changed their life conditions, but provided excuses for the extremist and violent elements to justify their act of violence, subsequently resulted in the current insecurity and chaos. The public hatred toward the US policies is, therefore, growing in the entire region.
In addition, the US failure in controlling the Iraq crisis has weakened its super-power status at the sight of the traditional Arab regional allies such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia; it has also undermined the legitimacy of these regimes before their public. Since 2005, and in many occasions, these regimes have expressed their concerns about the US inability to settle the Iraq crisis: they consider the extended presence of the US forces as a matter of concern and a bitter reality that could at last lead to their illegitimacy. As the foremost excuse, for instance, Al-Qaeda has always justified its opposition to regional regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, on these regimes' political, security and economic dependency on the United States.(3) At present, Al-Qaeda perceives the overthrowing of such regimes in the region as its sacred duty. Further, the US new strategy of the Great Middle East Plan, which provides some grounds for processing political reform and democratization, interactions among NGOs, human and women rights, market-economy, etc., will weaken the pillars of these regimes’ institutional power, leading ultimately to the regimes illegitimacy. Lastly, the US presence will intensify discrepancies in the relations between regional states. One vivid manifestation of this policy is the concern which has been expressed by Arab leaders such as King Abdollah of Jordan on the emergence of a supposed "Shiite Crescent" in the region in which Iran has a leading role. Hosni Mobarak of Egypt once expressed on this concern by saying, "the Shiites of the region are more sympathetic to Iran than their own countries."(4) Expressing on such issues is the result of the existing distrust and misperceptions in the Arab Sunni world toward the increasing role and natural influence of Iran in the new Iraq, which they consider to be overall an Arab issue. Likewise, the outlook of installing the Shiite factions at the top of Iraq’s state, and its implications for other regional states that have Shiite population, is a matter of real concern for the Arab Sunni elites.
- Paradoxes of simultaneous democratization and securitization
The Iraq war has disclosed the existing divergence between fostering democracy and establishing security in the region. As of the reason that the US democratization rhetoric has not been welcomed by the nations and regimes of the region is its simultaneous contradiction with establishing security. The self-interested policies of foreign powers i.e. Britain and the United States during the 20th century, such as creating artificial national boundaries, supporting of client regimes, conducting coups, etc., has led to a situation in which the two processes of democratization and securitization are deviated in the present Middle East. In other words, they can not be put in one context at once: Democratization and an increase of nations’ role will result in growing political expectations and ironically at last in insecurity. Insecurity is itself a major obstacle to fostering democratization. Iraq’s political development is a vivid example. (5) The prime principle of democratization is majority rule, which in Iraq means the rule of Shiite factions who are the dominant majority (60%). But for the sake of security and stability, the US policy is currently focused on establishing a “political consensus”, rather than the majority rule as a consequence of general elections. This was the main reason behind the US policy in reinstalling the Ba'athist elements and Sunni factions in the Iraqi state.
For the Iraqis or other regional nations, it is hard today to accept that the US entered Iraq for the sake of democratization or other solely humanitarian purposes. For many years, the US acted to preserve regional stability at the cost of democratization. Indeed, no genuine political change has yet been achieved in the region. It is still a self-interested strategy: endorsing democratization for establishing security and thereby safeguarding the world’s peace or better saying the US security. One should argue that what is now enhancing security for the United States is at the same time considered as diminishing insecurity for the other regional states. In fact, because of the historical distrust and lack of common language, it makes less sense for regional states or nations to support such policies.
- Power vacuum and political-ethnic rivalry
Iraq’s current power vacuum has intensified political expectations within the ethnic-religious factions. For a long time, the presence of a dominant Sunni majority was an integral of Iraq’s power and politics. With the new developments, other factions such as the Shiites and the Kurds, due to their substantial characteristics and potentials such as being populated in separate territories as well as enjoying large population, etc., are seeking for their adequate share and role in the power division. The controversy for acquiring further share in the circumstance of power vacuum is a major challenge of Iraq's transformation. The profound concern in this process is that any disagreement and political impasses will provide excuses for terrorist and violent groups to legitimize their activities, facilitating their attempts to recruit new members. The substantial challenge is therefore here: Without a powerful central government to be able to extend its power and control in entire Iraq, which means decreasing the factual and self-interested power of various political factions in the long term, no appropriate security can be realized. Ironically, as of the reason made Iraq integrated for long years, was the existence of a central powerful and military government, which was able to extend its control all along the country.
- Revival of ideology and religion
As the past five–year developments have demonstrated, there is a deep-rooted relation between religion and ideology in the politics of the region. As the situations in post-invasion Iraq substantiated, the traditional-religious segments of Iraqi society has still the real power and influence in the countries. For instance, the followers of radical cleric Moghtada Al-Sader have impacted the political situations in Iraq. This is most true toward the spiritual leadership of Ayatollah Sistani and his interventions in different turning points of Iraq's transformation into a new political order, most recently his unwillingness with the Iraq-US Political-Security Agreement. Therefore, any attempt in order to de-ideologizing and weakening of religion by injecting the principles of western democracy within the religious-traditional masses will lead to misperceptions and a failure of understanding of the real demands and expectations of regional nations. (6) Pursuing these kind policies will neither lead to the creation of a common discourse among the masses, nor will result in finding receptive audiences. One should argue that the ratification of Iraq’s Constitution is in contradiction with the US earlier expectations and understandings of Iraq’s politics, while at the beginning the US policies was more focused on bringing secular leadership and like-minded elites, no matter Shiite or Sunni, thereby expanding the US future influence in Iraq. It was because of the masses resistance and the supportive role of religious leaders that the US was step by step forced to accept the existing realities of Iraq’s politics. In this manner, the compromise made by the US in accepting the demands of the Iraqi people on revising the Iraq-US Political-Security Agreement is another instance. As such, the new political development in Iraq is a turning point in the revival of the role of religion in an Islamic society.
- Regional and global interests: diverging perspectives
The power vacuum in post-invasion Iraq has created a new place of conflict between regional actors and great involved powers. Such situations have brought about inevitable consequences for regional peace and security. As the experience of Afghanistan has demonstrated, any power vacuum or condition of “failed state” is essentially a ground for chaos and instability not only domestically, but regionally and internationally. This condition was best demonstrated in the Taliban case. The power vacuum and regional rivalry among regional states provided by the time the grounds for shaping, organizing, training and operating of Al-Qaeda terrorism, which in turn endangered the entire world security by the September 11th events. Iraq’s political scene has also been a ground for erupting tension at various domestic, regional and international levels. Domestically, the main challenges are emanating from the differing standpoints of the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions over their share of power in the country. Likewise, the inner-group rivalries in order to institutionalize the share of power inside the parties have intensified the existing dangers of power vacuum. (8) Regionally, the rivalries are notably among the regional actors, focusing on extending their role in the new Iraq in order to preserve their national and security interests. Two kinds of such rivalries can be identified here: first; between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Arab Sunni world, which has the potential of bringing a new round of tension and contest between the two sides; something that has already been shown in the relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Jordan when these states expressed their concerns on Iran’s increasing role in Iraq and subsequently in the Arab world affairs. (9) Second, is the rivalry within the Arab world, which are emanating from the Arab states' different views to how to deal with the current situations in Iraq. For instance, the Syrians and Saudis have different views toward handling the Iraq crisis as well as their policies about the presence of United States’ troops in Iraq. Finally, at the international level, there is a discrepancy, which is continuing to exist between the Western powers, especially the US and UK, and other European players such as Germany and France, and other powers such as China and Russia, to how to conduct the war on terror and deal with such regional crises. These latter states would not like to lose their political influence or economic interests in the Middle East region. Meanwhile, there is an emerging conflict between regional actors such as Iran and great powers such as the US in expanding their role in the region.
PROSPECTS OF REGIONAL PEACE AND SECURITY
Challenges of Iraq's transformation
Although the new Iraq is unlikely to be once again a military threat to the Middle East region, it still in various aspects contains the potentials of directing some new challenges into the region. At present, one of the most significant issues is the process of institutionalizing the Iraqi Constitution, together with the ways of empowering the national government. As discussed, the continued instability and political stalemate will best provide bases for violent elements and terrorist activities, which aim to show the failure and inability of any Iraqi government. As such, it is in the interest of all internal, regional and trans-regional actors to work together in order to find a way out of current political impasse. Insecurity in Iraq will not benefit any involved party. A failed and weak Iraqi state incapable of controlling the country will endanger the regional peace and security. Due to the complexities of Iraq’s politics and its past confronting relations with its neighbors, resolving the Iraq crisis without considering the role and security interests of its neighbors is rather infeasible.(10) One of the main roots continue the Iraq crisis is the US policy in denying the role of the regional actors such as Iran and Syria. In this context, the baker-Hamilton Plan was a momentous opportunity that unfortunately was missed by the Bush administration. At present, Iraq’s main challenges of transformation include:
1. Challenges of establishing security and stability and bringing efficiency for the Iraqi state;
2. Challenges of creating compromise and balance in Iraq's power division and political factions;
3. Challenges of proceeding and institutionalizing the Iraqi Constitution and articles related to federalism and the distribution of wealth;
4. Challenges of establishing political sovereignty, together with the withdrawal of the US forces, and subsequently signing political-security agreements.
FUTURE PROSPECTS: THE ROLE OF NIEBORING STATES
Given the effects of Iraqi crisis on the Middle East region, and most importantly for the sake of the regional stability, it is prudent that all relevant parties in the Iraq crisis work together actively and help to get away from the current conditions of instability. In this regard, some concrete steps should be taken into account including:
The rule of majority is the foremost substance of any democratic process. As regards Iraq, the right of Shiite factions in building their role in the Iraqi government must thus be accepted by the Sunni factions as a concrete reality of the contemporary Iraq. However, given Iraq’s traditional power foundation, and for the sake of preserving the rule of minorities, together with conserving security as the main prerequisite of Iraq’s transformation, making consensus is also imperative at the first step of Iraq's transformation. Given the past suppressing policies of the Ba'athist regime, it would take some time the culture of tolerance to be accepted by all Iraqis. Bearing the presence and role of each other is yet to be institutionalized in the new Iraq. As it was demonstrated in the process of electing Iraq’s premier just after the general elections, without any political consensus among the Iraqi political parties to how to run the country, it is very hard to regulate Iraq’s domestic affairs or regional and international relations. Reaching any kind agreement in order to initiate any successful security plans in Iraq’s transformation process, requires political consensus among all Iraqi political factions.
- Redefining the role of Shiites’ factions
For a long time, the repressive policies of the Ba'athist regime and the hegemonic presence of Sunni minority in the governing elites marginalized the role of Shiite factions in Iraq’s power structure. Such a conventional setting can no longer be accepted by neither the Shiites factions, nor by the regional countries such as Iran which most suffered from such a traditional order, which resulted in the militaristic policies of the Iraqi Sunni elites, initiating the Iran-Iraq war. With the rise to power of the Shiites and Kurds in Iraq’s power structure, all regional and outside actors should accept the new situations and help to redefine Iraq’s transformation into a new political-security order.
- Building a balanced government
The fluctuate situations in the past five years have demonstrated that the best strategy for establishing a secure Iraq is to work on building a balanced government comprised of all political-ethnic factions. This strategy can lead Iraq toward adapting a modest and balanced demand of national goals and interests. Various factions in power structure will naturally express their sect or group interests in regulating relations with Iraq's neighbors, i.e. the Shiites with Iran, the Sunnis with Saudi Arabia and the Arab Sunni world, and the Kurds with the Americans and others. While the new Iraq will present no military threats or extremist policies, all neighbors should help to bring security and stability in Iraq. Iraq’s security threats to the region have now more to do with its domestic instability, which in turn bring about general political-security implications for the region. As such, all involved actors must work hard to help processing Iraq’s transformation according to the region's new political realities. Undoubtedly, the existence of a balanced Iraq along with moderate sustainable regional interests will be in the benefit of regional and international peace and security.
- Establishing appropriate economic-cultural interactions
Increasing Iraq's economic interactions with all its neighbors will make these states responsible to cooperate bring stability and security in Iraq. Traditionally, Iraq’s economic and political exchanges were oriented toward the Arab world in the west, Turkey in the north, and generally the Soviet Bloc countries. In the new circumstances, Iraq should take advantage of the geographical proximity in the eastern areas with Iran in order to enhance economic exchanges. Meanwhile, the existing cultural-societal commonalities between Iran and Iraq, can play a major role in building close friendship between the two states, thereby narrowing the traditional sense of enmity as a result of the Ba'athist regime policies between the two Iranian and Iraqi nations. The more diverse exchanges with the neighbors, the further mutual interactions leading to keep an appropriate level of political-security relations.
- Shifting from the Balance of Power theory
With the new security-political developments in post-invasion Iraq, a change in the conventional political-security architecture of the region is inevitable. While Iran and Iraq are no longer balancing each other in the region, no need to express on the traditional political-security system which was based on balance of power. Such a policy which presumed the region’s security, would only be preserved by a rivalry between Iran and Iraq is doomed. Such a security design is no longer according to the region’s political realities. Nor it is accepted by the nations of the region. One should argue that the roots of past animosities between Iran and Iraq were first and foremost designed by the role of foreign intervening powers. In the new circumstances, no new regional security arrangements, especially in the Persian Gulf, will be feasible without including the two countries. At present, the main concern relates to the policies of the United States in order to redefine the new Iraq as a new balancer of Iran in the region. This self-interested policy is likely to bring a new kind rivalry between Iran and Iraq, subsequently leading to a new round of tension and distrust between Iran and other Arab states in the region. The continuation of such policies would benefit neither interested actor in the region. In the years ahead, different understandings of the sources of security challenges between the main actors in the region i.e. Iran and Saudi Arabia will be one of the main challenges. The new Iraq could be both a point of convergence or divergence of relations between the main regional actors. Any attempts by the regional and trans-regional actors to build new rounds of strategic rivalry between Iran and Iraq will expand the existing feeling of distrust in an already complicated region.
The Iraq war and its afterwards political-security implications have disclosed some of the realities and complexities of power and politics in the Middle East region. The war has demonstrated that how much establishing security and promoting democracy face serious challenges in the region; it has also shown that the cause of continued instability is rooted in the cultural, religious and historical characteristics of Middle Eastern states as well as their complicated structure of power and politics. They are also rooted in the distinct demands and expectations of Middle Eastern nations from their own governments and the role of outside powers. The birth of a new Iraq with a different structure of power and politics, together with a different regional and international relations has inevitably provided the necessity of forming new political-security architecture in the region. Given the experience of the five-year war, coming out of the current political stalemate, will require building trust in relations between Iraqi political factions along with reaching a political consensus. In this respect, the continuous presence of foreign role in Iraq or in the region will only result in further distrust and instability, it will provide pretexts for insurgents to justify their acts of violence; it will also provide further grounds of tension and political-cultural discrepancies between Iraq's neigbors. The war in Iraq has shown the interdependency of any regional crisis in the region, and that given the complexities of power and politics in the region, there must a certain portion of cooperation between regional and trans-regional actors in order to settle any crisis.
- For further information in this respect see Kayhan Barzegar," Iran and the New Iraq: Challenges and Opportunities Ahead," Journal of Law and Politics, Vol. 1, No, 1, Winter 2005, pp. 51-52.
- These policies have threatened the regional governments in form of the US new Middle Eastern strategies such as Axis of Evil and The Greater Middle East Plan.
- Stephan Zunes, "Us Policy toward Political Islam," foreign Policy in Focus, September 2001, available at http://www.altnet.org/story/11479. For further information on the aims of violent and terrorist groups in Iraq see "Who Are the Insurgents?" United Institute for Peace, Special Report 234, April 2005.
- For an Iranian reaction of what Mobarak expressed on the Arab Shiite's loyalty to the Iranian government see" Mobarak: The Loyalty of Arab world Shiite to Iran," Baztab, 21 Farvardin 2006.
- See George W. Bush, speech at the National Endowment for democracy," 6 November 2003, available at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/11/2003//06-2.html.
- See Karin Esposito, "Perceptions of Freedom: US-Iran relations as a Product of Differing Societal Viewpoints on the Meaning of Freedom'" Journal of the European Society for Iranian Studies, No. 1, winter 2005.
- For further information on the role and influence of religious leaders and Shiite political factions in Iraq see Anthony Cordesman, " The Real meaning of the Iraqi Elections," CSIS, January 10, 2005; Nawaf Obaid," Meeting the Challenges of a Fragmented Iraq: A Saudi Perspective," CSIS, April 6, 2006, pp. 11-15.
- For further information about Factionalism in Iraq," see Kayhan Barzegar, "Understanding the Roots of Iranian Foreign Policy in the New Iraq," Middle east Policy, vol. XII, No. 2, Summer 2005, pp. 50-51.
- For a better understanding of Saudi aims in Iraq see "Saudi Arabia and Iraq," January 2006, available at: www.usip.org
- See Anthony Cordesman, The Arabs Role in Iraq: A strategy for Action," October 2005, available at: www.csis.org