Al-Monitor this week launched the Iraq Pulse, featuring original reporting and commentary from prominent reporters and analysts inside Iraq.
Iraqi politics, and the regional context in which they happen, are increasingly contentious, factionalized, and volatile, even by Iraq’s standards.
Relations between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region have deteriorated even further since Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki deployed the Tigris Operational Command in disputed areas near Kirkuk in late 2012. In addition to the ongoing dispute over a hydrocarbons law and revenue sharing, the military edge to the conflict is an ominous sign, reminiscent of the crisis in Khanaqin in 2008, when US intervention prevented a military confrontation. As Ryan Crocker, former US ambassador to Iraq, told Al-Monitor recently, “The Kurdish region exists inextricably as part of a region that has never been more volatile than it is right now.”
Provincial elections, scheduled for this Spring, may be catalyst for score-settling among Iraq’s political parties, as Saleem Al-Hasani wrote this week for Al-Monitor. Maliki is facing an uprising by Sunni groups in Ramadi and elsewhere. Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr is seeking to exploit the Sunni challenge to Maliki, as Ali Abdel Sadah reported for Al-Monitor.
The politics surrounding investigations into allegations of corruption in a Russian arms deal to Iraq and at Iraq’s Central Bank, both covered by Al-Monitor, have heightened the sense of crisis and instability in Iraq.
Iraqi politics cannot be detached from the machinations and intrigues of its neighbors and the broader regional context. As this column has previously noted, Iraq is a fault line in the sectarian war between Turkey and Iran, which is playing out in Syria and throughout the Middle East. The Turkey-Iran contest for influence in Syria and Iraq, and the broader sectarian conflict, are all of a piece.
The evolution of Turkey’s sectarian agenda, including in Iraq, as Semih Idiz wrote this week in Al-Monitor, has puzzled many observers. The basic understanding of Turkish interests in Iraq has historically been to support a unified, though not necessarily strong country while containing the aspirations of Iraq’s Kurds, given Turkey’s own Kurdish issue. That Prime Minister Erdogan has thrown his lot completely with Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani has worsened relations with Baghdad, and by extension Iran.
Barzani may be boxed in by his worsening relations with Maliki and an overdependence on Ankara, as Denise Natali has written. The Kurdistan Region’s progress in signing production sharing agreements with international oil companies is noteworthy, but long term prosperity depends on a deal with Baghdad, and there is no sign of progress there.
As Erdogan pursues a sectarian program for Iraq, Iran will check Turkey’s ambitions. Tehran will make clear to Barzani, Erdogan, Maliki, Sadr, and everyone else that Iran alone will be the arbiter of war or peace, instability or stability, in Iraq, as well as in Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza.
Al-Monitor’s Iraq Pulse will cover Iraq with the same diversity, originality, depth, and attention to trends which characterize our Israel, Lebanon, Palestine and Turley Pulses. Given that Iraq remains central to the political, economic, and strategic landscape of the region, the Iraq Pulse furthers Al-Monitor’s mission to uncover the trends while covering the news in the Middle East.