Last week the Institute for the Study of War hosted a presentation on Capitol Hill entitled, “Iraq’s Political Crisis.” Panelists included Iraqi Ambassador Samir Shakir Sumaida’ie, Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy Dr. Kenneth Pollack, President of the Institute for the Study of War Dr. Kimberly Kagan and Research Director of the Institute for the Study of War Marisa Sullivan.
“Some people are tempted to think Iraq is yesterday’s problem,” Ambassador Samir Shakir Sumaida’ie told the audience on Tuesday. “Iraq is still a work in progress and we have made amazing progress.” This progress can be illustrated by the 62% of Iraqis who came out to vote in the March elections despite many threats. The Ambassador called this a “tremendous affirmation by the Iraqi people.”
The Iraqi Ambassador frankly addressed the topic of the recent elections in Iraq and the political hurdles that Iraq still has to overcome in order to secure a working government. He stressed that the outcome of this political crisis is not only important to the country of Iraq, but also to the relationship Iraq will hold with the United States. He described this political struggle as the “struggle which has regional dimension and international ramifications.”
The recent election battle and the accusations of fraud have caught the attention of the world. Many wait anxiously to see how the election crisis will play out. The formation of the government, according to Research Director of the Institute of the Study of War, Marisa Sullivan, should not be a rushed process: “Easier deals are often not in the best interest of Iraq.”
Ms. Sullivan stressed that today, “there are continued discussions between all parties.” But the political controversy is not only concerning “who gets what post, but also the powers the prime minister will have.”
Kimberly Kagan, President of the Institute for the Study of War, explained that what we are seeing in Iraq today is a democratic country in its first transition. We must “look at Iraq as a young democratic state,” she insisted. “The first election by which power is transferred from one government to the next government is a defining moment.”
“Iraq is going to form a government that reflects their interests,” Kagan said. She also emphasized the vital role the United States has and will continue to play in the internal formation of Iraq. It is a myth, she said, that “the United States cannot and should not involve itself in the internal politics of Iraq.”
“Our silence is a statement to Iraqi politicians,” she said. “It is appropriate for the United States to lay out issues that need to be addressed in the formation of government.”
Iraq has overcome many obstacles to get where it is today. There are many success stories coming out of Iraq, Dr. Kenneth Pollack emphasized. The fact that the Iraqis actually voted is a huge success because prior to the elections there was nervousness that the Iraqis might not actually vote in their own elections.
“They [the Iraqis] continue to believe in potential for this system to give them what they want,” Pollack said. But, “elections are only part of the larger political process going on.”
Pollack expressed concern over the idea that some believe there was a stolen election in Iraq. He emphasized that this idea is an extremely dangerous one. “It could have a whole series of grave repercussions.”
“Iraq is determined to see that we leave, but they are terrified because they know we will,” Pollack emphasized. The United States for many years to come will continue to play a vital role in a successful Iraq. “We continue to be seen as the ultimate guarantor of its stability and its peace.”
“What happens in the next few months will leave a mark on Iraq but also on the project the United States embarked on,” The Iraqi Ambassador remarked. “The fact is the United States has invested huge amounts of funds and blood in this country of mine, but we have invested even more, maybe not on the funds but certainly on the blood.”
Americans continue to remain divided on the role the United States should play in Iraq and how long the United States should be involved in Iraq. This debate will certainly be addressed in the mid term elections in November and possibly in the 2012 presidential election. For the time being, however, the United States will continue to be influential in the region. “Our influence in Iraq is declining, it is still enormous but it is declining,” Pollack said.
“This is the tipping point,” Ambassador Samir Shakir Sumaida’ie exclaimed. “These are not ordinary elections because these are not ordinary times.”
“Over 50% of states return to civil war within 5 years of cease fire,” Pollack said.
That statistic is the harsh reality and a reminder of the necessity of a stable Iraq not only for the sake of Iraq itself, but for the stability of the region as a whole.