Iraq’s emerging internal conflicts
By Eurasia Group Analyst Rochdi Younsi As U.S. combat troops begin a gradual withdrawal from Iraq, a growing number of Iraqi politicians, militia groups, tribal leaders, and others will compete to fill the power vacuum that Americans leave behind. Last weekend’s provincial elections across the country have exposed some of the emerging tensions within Sunni ...
By Eurasia Group Analyst Rochdi Younsi
As U.S. combat troops begin a gradual withdrawal from Iraq, a growing number of Iraqi politicians, militia groups, tribal leaders, and others will compete to fill the power vacuum that Americans leave behind. Last weekend’s provincial elections across the country have exposed some of the emerging tensions within Sunni and Shia communities.
Most Sunnis boycotted the most recent provincial elections in 2005. But tribal leaders in Sunni-dominated al Anbar province successfully mobilized the community to vote this time, and leaders of the Islamic Iraqi Party (IIP) are determined that control of the provincial council will allow them to claim the speakership of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad. Official voting results won’t be announced for several weeks, but IIP members have already declared victory in several districts.
In response, Sheikh Ahmad Abu Risha, leader of the collection of Sunni tribes known as the Awakening Council, has charged the IIP with fraud and threatens to take up arms. Without intense mediation by both the U.S. and the central Iraqi government, these rival Sunni factions may well provoke new turmoil across Iraq’s central provinces.
Local authorities imposed an overnight curfew Tuesday to reduce the risk of armed clashes, but there is little assurance that Iraq’s central government and U.S. forces can quell the threat of violence indefinitely — particularly since the Awakening Council is armed with weapons provided by the U.S. in exchange for cooperation in targeting foreign-born al Qaeda-inspired militants. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki will try to limit any outbreak of violence, but other Shia leaders in Baghdad will view divisions among Sunnis as an opportunity to consolidate their influence.
Then there’s the risk of violence among Shia groups. Early (and incomplete) results suggest that al Maliki’s State of Law Coalition leads in Iraq’s southern Shia-dominated provinces. Until now, the prime minister has depended on leading Shia factions for support. Victory for his coalition could shift the local balance of power in al Maliki’s favor.
Why might that provoke violence? Because members of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and the Fadhila party, both Shia-dominated groups, fear that al Maliki means to enact constitutional reforms that would strengthen the power of the central government at the expense of local authorities and replace the current parliamentary system with a strong presidential regime. Several Shia political parties worry that this plan would reverse the political gains they’ve made through greater representation in parliament and thwart their plans for regional autonomy (and tighter control of local oil wealth).
Al Maliki has yet to publicly propose a specific plan, but he’ll face strong resistance if he backs any idea that strengthens Baghdad at the expense of provincial governments.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/Getty Images
Ian Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. He is also the host of the television show GZERO World With Ian Bremmer. Twitter: @ianbremmer
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