As the first anniversary of the start of the Arab Spring passes by, attention is naturally focused on the political transitions in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, and the quasi-civil war in Syria. Iraq hasn’t attracted too much attention of late, and even the United States’ withdrawal of its troops in December 2011 was a low-key affair.
However, the fact that Iraq has not been in the headlines belies the very substantial political risks that the country faces in 2012. In an article published on Business Monitor Online on January 26, we discuss the dangers faced by Iraq in the near term:
- Iraq faces rising tensions between the Shi’a majority and the Sunni minority.
- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (a Shi’a) is increasingly seen as an authoritarian figure, raising fears about Iraq’s democratic credentials.
- Iraqi security forces may not be strong enough to prevent a new sectarian conflict.
- A renewed conflict in Iraq would affect the interests of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and several other MENA states, and would probably drag them in as proxy players.
- One scenario we outline would be simultaneous civil wars in Iraq and Syria, which would be highly destabilising for the heart of the region, and lead to refugee flows.
- Iraq’s Kurdish region could take advantage of Shi’a-Sunni strains to increase its autonomy from the central government in Baghdad.
- Any protracted political crisis or renewed violence could interfere with the oil sector’s development and deter prospective investors.
The situation is looking precarious. If Syria and Iraq descend into full-blown civil war, and Israel or the US attacks Iran, then the entire region between the Mediterranean and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border will be in conflict. A scary thought.