Iraq’s Political Transition After the Surge: Five Enduring Tensions and Ten Key Challenges

The common refrain that the surge has produced military success that has not been matched by political progress fundamentally misrepresents the nature of Iraq’s political evolution. The increased security achieved over the last two years has been purchased through a number of choices that have worked against achieving meaningful political reconciliation. The reductions in violence in 2007 and 2008 have, in fact, made true political accommodation in Iraq more elusive, contrary to the central theory of the surge. Rather than advancing Iraq’s political transition and facilitating power-sharing deals among Iraq’s factions, the surge has produced an oil revenue-fueled, Shia-dominated national government with close ties to Iran. This national government shows few signs of seeking to compromise and share meaningful power with other frustrated political factions. The surge has set up a political house of cards. But this does not mean that the U.S. military must stay longer to avoid its collapse. Quite the contrary: Without a U.S. military drawdown, Iraq will not be able to achieve the true internal consolidation of power necessary to advance U.S. security interests in the Middle East. Iraq will need to overcome numerous hurdles in its political transition before the end of 2009, including two elections and a long list of unresolved power-sharing questions. Not all of the 10 key challenges outlined in this report are of equal magnitude-failure to resolve some would likely lead to major, systemic crisis, while failure on others would simply be suboptimal. Yet all are interconnected, and none have been resolved by the security improvements of the last 18 months or will be meaningfully addressed simply by postponing U.S. troop withdrawals.