Iraq is not lost to Iran


Iraq is decidedly not lost to Iran—and today U.S. leverage is at a new post-withdrawal high, says Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations. Many Iraqi Shiite leaders are growing disillusioned with Iran and want to strengthen ties with the U.S., he writes for The Wall Street Journal:

  • First, although Iran’s security support was useful in halting the initial advance of ISIS, it has been insufficient to retake major territory. The limited effectiveness was evident in the stalled offensive to recover Tikrit and the militias’ failure to hold Baiji on their own. In both cases it was American advice and focused U.S. air power that allowed the Iraqis to achieve their objectives last spring and summer…..
  • Second, Iraqi leaders fear that the militias will outlive their useful role against ISIS and become parties to, or instruments in, a Shiite civil war. Some of the more extreme leaders, like Moqtada al-Sadr, are trying to ride on the wave of popular dissatisfaction with poor governance and the slow pace of reform in Baghdad. ….
  • Third, there is strong resentment over Iranian heavy-handedness and disrespect for Iraqi sovereignty. I heard complaints that Qasim Suleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, attends classified security meetings in Baghdad without a visa or announcement. In November, Iran sent half a million people, not all of them innocent pilgrims, across the border without proper documents…..

To make the most of this opportunity for increased U.S.-Iraq relations, here are a few things that Washington should do:

  • Assist in restoring the military balance in favor of Iraqi national security forces.Support from the U.S. and its allies has already helped the Iraqi army regain some of the strength and respect it lost when ISIS took Mosul in 2014. …..
  • Carefully assess plans for Mosul.…. to make military victory in Mosul and other Sunni Arab cities permanent there needs to be a deliberate plan to manage post-liberation reconstruction and settle governance questions.
  • Help demilitarize. The U.S. should help the Iraqis design and implement a program for militia disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. Once ISIS is defeated, Iraq must reverse the militarization of society made necessary by its onslaught.
  • Facilitate progress toward a new political compact.I gleaned from my conversations that some Shiite leaders were open to normalizing relations with Sunni Arabs, as well as having a candid conversation with their Kurdish counterparts about the future of the country. The U.S. can do more to catalyze agreements, which may include allowing Sunni-majority provinces to exercise a constitutional right to establish federal regions.

RTWT. Khalilzad is a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy and the author of “The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House, My Journey Through a Turbulent World,” just out from St. Martin’s Press.

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