Sunday, June 10, 2018

Response to comments on my post: The May Parliamentary Elections in Iraq: A Step Forward in the Transition to Democracy?


Iraqi elections campaign billboards
Since I published a post at The New Middle East on Iraq's May 2018 parliamentary elections, I received numerous comments and questions regarding my analysis of the elections.  I respond to these comments and questions below. 

Is it valid to classify Iraq as a democracy?

The answer is a qualified yes.  However, to apply the term democracy in Iraqi politics without a modifier is problematic.  Iraq is a nation-state involved in the process of a transition to democracy.  It is as of yet not a consolidated democracy.
Three happy Iraqi voters
It should be noted that the process of change from an authoritarian regime to a democracy in transition and then to a consolidated democracy is rarely, if ever, a linear process.   Further, once a democracy is consolidated, that is not the “end of history.”  A consolidated or semi-consolidated democracy may experience retrenchment (“backsliding”), as the examples of Italy, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Turkey, Venezuela, and the Philippines demonstrate.  Even the US is witnessing an undermining of its democratic institutions and processes.  See, for example, the recent volume, How Democracies Die, by Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky.

Since 2005, Iraq has had 4 national elections.  The main criterion of a democratic elections is that the outcome isn’t known.  This has been true of all 4 of the elections which were held in a manner that all observers consider to have been fair and free.

Doesn’t the lower turnout of the May 12th elections indicate a weakening of support for democracy in Iraq compared to higher turnouts in past elections?

This is an important question but one with a less than obvious answer.  First, the turnout of the Sa’iroun Coalition – primarily comprised of followers of Muqtada al-Sadr - was about the same as in the 2014 parliamentary elections.  The real drop in turnout was for the established party coalitions which have held power since 2014 and even before. This decline in voter support was especially noticeable for the State of Law and the Nasr coalitions.
A government bus poster advising Iraqi voters to check their
personal information prior to the May elections
The problem in understanding how to assess the lower turnout is not to be gleaned as much from the electoral behavior of Iraqi voters, as it is from the analytic point of departure used by many Iraqi and Western analysts and commentators.  Their focus has and continues to be on political elites, not mass publics.  If these analysts, with some exceptions, such as Renad Mansour of Chatham House, had disaggregated the turnout according to party vote (and social class), they would have arrived at a different, i.e., less negative, conclusion.

Another reason the parties in power did poorly was the statement by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani that, in the May 12th elections, Iraqis were not required to vote.   This statement differed from Sayyid al-Sistani’s position in past elections when he indicated that voting was a necessity. Many Iraqis saw his statement prior to the May elections as an admonition to voters not to support the political parties currently in power because they have done little to attack corruption and solve the everyday problems faced by the populace at large.

The key takeaway when analyzing voter turnout is the following: There was a higher turnout rate among the lower classes of Iraqi society, particularly the poor and lower middle classes who supported the Sa’iroun, than the educated middle classes.  This voting pattern is highly irregular because studies of voting behavior in democratic polities have overwhelming demonstrated that educated and professional members of the middle class invariably vote at higher rates than less educated sectors of the population.  This was not the case in the May 2018 Iraqi elections.

The ongoing media campaign for the May elections
 Why do so many analysts focus on political elites to the exclusion of the citizenry at large?

One reason is the analyst’s bias towards the “Great Man of History” approach to politics.  Individual leaders, whether Saddam Husayn, Nuri al-Maliki, Haydar al-Abadi, Hadi al-Amiri, Muqtada al-Sadr, and so on, are the most visible to the analyst, make continuous statements to the media, and always try to inflate their power and influence.  That all political leaders require a strong and participatory social base if they are to win elections seems to have been lost in the analyses of the May 2018 parliamentary elections.

Combine the Great Leader of History approach with what I call the “sin of presentism” – the failure to situate politics in a historical context – and you arrive at an analysis which is often adept at explaining continuity, but unable to explain substantive change when it occurs.  These 2 conceptual flaws constitute the main reason why the May 12th elections took so many analysts “by surprise.”http://new-middle-east.blogspot.com/2009/01/10-conceptual-sins-in-analyzing-middle.html

Why do we need a historical perspective when elections occur in the here and now and deal with every day – contemporary- issues?

The reason traditional sectarian party coalitions performed poorly in the last elections is that they have been promising to improve social services and fight corruption since 2005.  These promises haven’t been kept.  At the same time, the dominant party elites have attempted to manipulate ethno-sectarian identities to promote vertical identities, i.e., identities constructed along lines of sect – Sunni vs. Shi’a – or ethnicity – Kurd vs. Arab, or Turkmen vs. Kurd - to promote their personal goals, hide the rapacious nature of their behavior, and prevent cross-sect and cross-ethnic alliances.
Employees of the Iraqi High Electoral Commission at work
By way of contrast, the Sadrists and Iraqi Communist Party have promoted horizontal identities, namely cross-sect and cross ethnic alliances.  Such an alliance gained the largest number of seats in the 2010 elections under Ayad al-Allawi’s al-Iraqiya list (91 seats to al-Maliki’s sect-based State of Law’s 89 seats).  

Since corruption hasn’t abated and social services haven’t improved, Iraqis reacted this past May by either boycotting the elections or, in the case of Sa’iroun, voting for a list which explicitly focused on tacking corruption and social services.  We can see Iraqis saying to themselves before voting: “Fool me once, shame on you!  Fool me twice, shame on me!”

But weren’t the Sadrists complicit in corruption and poor delivery of social services when they were in control of certain ministries in the past?

This statement is true.  However, the Sadrists have continuously provided social services to their constituents outside the confines of the state.  Even if they acted in a corrupt manner when in power, the Sadrist leadership has remained loyal to its base.  Further, the Sadrists have always promoted a nationalist vision of Iraq in reaching out to Sunnis and attacking sectarianism.

Because the Sa’iroun Coalition ran on a platform of fighting corruption, the Sadrists will find it difficult to countenance rampant corruption while in office.  While Iraqis can rest assured that the problem of corruption won’t disappear in the near future, the Sadrists will be forced to confront corruption to at least a limited degree if they are to improves the delivery of social services. 

The Sadrists will remain under intense scrutiny by established political elites who will try to delegitimize the Sa’iroun.  The Iraqi Communist Part, the other partner in the Sa’iroun Coalition, will also serve to constrain them in engaging in corruption.  Without the ICP, the Sadrists lose their connection to educated youth and intellectuals who they need to demonstrate that their political support is broad based and not confined to the poor and working classes

What do the elections tell us about the power of sub-national identities in Iraq?

Despite the fetishism of Western analysts of viewing Iraq through the frame of Shica, Sunni and Kurd, they have failed to realize and appreciate the degree to which many inhabitants of the country place their Iraqi identity before their sub-national identities.  One reason for this phenomenon is the fact that Iraqi tribes, especially Arab tribes, invariably contain both Shici and Sunni clans (al-afkhadh).  Another powerful influence is that, in the Iraqi street, relations between different sects and ethnics groups has always been one of tolerance and “live and let live.  The films, Forget Baghdad, and Baghdad High, underscore this sense of religious tolerance and cultural pluralism.

While Iraq’s religious and ethnic divisions are often viewed as a political liability, they serve to place a set of “checks and balances” on would be sectarian entrepreneurs.  Despite the view among Sunni Arabs outside Iraq, that it constitutes a “Shi a country,” the Shi a found themselves divided into 5 factions during the May 2018 elections.  The Kurds and Sunni Arabs were divided into several different factions. 
Political divisions among Iraqi Kurdish factions
If the “Unholy Conceptual Trinity” of Sunni, Shi a and Kurd were so salient to Iraqi politics, one needs to explain why these divisions existed. These internal divisions served to help anti-sectarian party coalitions find partners from groups representing all different ethno-sectarian groups in Iraq.  Indeed, it can be argued that sectarianism adversely affected the very sectarian entrepreneurs who practiced it by encouraging divisions within their ranks.

One only has to attend a football (soccer) game which pits Iraq against a foreign country to see how powerful the sense of Iraqi identity is on display.  In this sense, Iraq is little different from other nation-states which strong regional senses of identity.  In Italy, for example, Italians constantly squabble politically.  However, whenever it’s time for World Cup in football, the country demonstrates an incredible sense of national unity.

What about Iraq’s Kurdish population – where do they fit in the country’s political equation?

There is little doubt that the Kurds are very demoralized after the failure of the September 2017 referendum on establishing an independent Kurdish state.  The referendum failed to produce any positive results.  Instead, it exposed the fissures which have always existed among the two dominant Kurdish partied, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).  The failed referendum also resulted in the Kurds losing the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and its surrounding areas and other parts of the “disputed territories” along the Kurdish-Arab border in north-central Iraq.  This loss of land deprived the KRG of one-third of its revenues from oil.

Undoubtedly unhappy with the political reality they face, many Kurds have come to the realization that it is preferable to develop an accommodation with the Federal Government in Baghdad which has already provided some salary relief for Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) employees.  Demonstrations by Kurds against the 2 dominant parties, but the KDP in particular, due to massive corruption and nepotism, the payment of only partial salaries to KRG employees over the past 2 years, and the declining quality of social services, places the question of independence in abeyance for the foreseeable future.

At the same time, the Kurds could play a key role in the formation of the new government in Baghdad.  Concessions could be extracted from the Sa’iroun-Nasr-al-Hikma-al-Wataniya Alliance which seems most likely to provide the core of the new government once the manual recount of votes has been completed.  These concessions could include restructuring and increasing the percentage of the national budget designated for the KRG, in return for an attack on corruption.  If this outcome occurred, it would be no different from the deal-making which occurs in other democratic polities after a national election.

How does Iraq compare with other quasi-democratic states?

Few analysts and commentators have situated the May 12th elections in a comparative perspective.  If we look at Venezuela, Turkey, Philippines and Russia, to take some prominent examples, we find opposition leaders barred from running for office, physically intimidated or even put in prison.
Fidesz Party billboard accusing George Soros of controlling opposition parties
In Poland, supposedly a consolidated democracy, the ruling Law and Justice Party had tried to take over control of the judiciary.  In Hungary, Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party used recent national elections to foster conspiracy theories, and scapegoat minorities and immigrants using “fake news.”  Bill boards depicting billionaire, George Soros, a Hungarian Jew, in a very unflattering manner, while accusing him of trying to destroy Hungary through promoting a massive influx of migrants promoted anti-Semitism and have further degraded the county’s political culture and respect for democratic norms.

In Iraq’s election, there were 6904 candidates.  Candidates were vetted by 3 different government agencies and there were no reports of efforts to systematically deny would-be candidates the right to participate in the national parliamentary elections.  Although some problems were reported in the KRG, on the whole No effort was made to prevent a specific political party from actively campaigning.
Peoples Democratic Party leader, Sellahattin Demirtas - jailed for "insulting"
Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan
When it was discovered that the electronic voting system employed by the Iraq’s Higher Election Commission to reduce fraudulent voting had failed in parts of the country, a manual recount was agreed upon with little political opposition.  Despite the attempted destruction of ballot boxes on June 10th, it is highly unlikely that the overall results of the May elections will be overturned.  

It is true that the recount is not expected to change the results of Iraq’s elections.  However, the recount will strengthen the legitimacy of the Iraqi elections. Unlike the United States, where President Donald Trump has sought to undermine the legitimacy of our democratic elections, and is already trying to cast doubt on the forthcoming November 2018 elections because the House of Representatives may flip to the Democratic Party, no major politician in Iraq has sought to undermine the substance of Iraq’s democratic elections
Youth - the future of democracy in Iraq
Sectarian slurs and pronouncements were minimal in the May 2018 elections as was the outbreak of violence.  Many commentators have focused only on the decline in rate of voter participation compared to 2014, but few have commended Iraq for the manner in which the institutions designed to organize, oversee and certify the election results.  Remembering that 20 years ago, conducting such elections would have been impossible, Iraq has come a long way since 2003







Thursday, May 31, 2018

The May 12th Parliamentary Elections in Iraq: A Step Forward in the Transition to Democracy?



Muqtada al-Sadr, Sa'irun Coalition leader, and Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi
What can we learn about the future of Iraqi politics from the recent May 12th parliamentary elections?  Do the elections suggest a movement towards democracy?  What are the main takeaways?

Generally, the results were positive.  A true measure of a democratic election is that the outcome is unknown before it occurs.  Second, competing political parties must have access to the media in order to be able to present their policies to the electorate.  Finally, those who seek to run for office should be allowed to do so and voters should not be prevented from voting.  On all these counts, the May 12th elections score high points.

However, the fourth national parliamentary elections since Saddam was ousted in 2003 stand out for additional reasons.  First, Iraqi voters supported non-sectarian parties, favoring instead those which emphasized improving social services and fighting corruption.  Second, both the United States and Iran, the two external powers with the most influence in Iraq, have agreed that the current prime minister, Dr. Hayder al-Abadi, who enjoys broad popularity for defeating he Dacish and a reputation as an honest and non-sectarian leader, should remain in his post.

Third, despite its negative impact on the Western alliance, the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Accord will create further economic problems for the Iranian economy which will make it more difficult for Iran to interfere in Iraqi politics.  Already, leaders of 2 of the 3 powerful militias, largely funded and controlled by Iran, have indicated a willingness to engage in at least limited cooperation with US forces in Iraq.

Finally, and perhaps most significant, it appears as if the next Iraqi government will be headed by Dr. Hayder al-Abadi, the current prime minister, and be comprised of a coalition which is cross-ethnic and cross-sect.  The core parties in the coalition - the Sadrist Trend and the Iraqi Communist Party - both of which are known for their focus on spcial justice, namey their concerns for the poor and improving social services. 

What the elections suggest, according to the best case scenario, is an Iraq which finally can focus less on putting out the fires and controversies caused by sectarianism and, through a cross ethnic and cross sect coalition, make all Iraq’s constituent ethnosectarian groups feel they have a place at the political table. In such a setting, policies which in the past benefitted a small elite of sectarian entrepreneurs, and produced negative consequences, could be replaced by public policy which actually benefits Iraqi society at large.

Because these elections would never have occurred without the toppling of Saddam Husayn in 2003, namely without foreign interference in Iraq, what external forces are at play as Iraq’s political coalitions attempt to form a new government?

Background to the elections
To better understand the recent May 12th elections, we need to understand how sectarian identities have evolved since the 1980s.  One of the misconceptions in understanding Iraqi society is that political behavior is driven by ethnosectarian identities.  While religious sect and ethnicity are central to Iraqis’ sense of themselves, it’s erroneous to assume that these social and cultural identities inherently structure political identities and behavior. 

A key distinction which Western analysts often fail to recognize is that the Iraqi populace at large is highly tolerant of cultural and social difference. The effort to manipulate ethnic and religious difference is largely a function of the policies followed by the Iraqi political class. The question then becomes: how did this rapacious political elite acquire the power to use sectarianism for personal gain with the concomitant negative consequences for Iraqi society?

The history of the political manipulation of ethnosectarian identities is beyond the scope of this post (see the special issue of The Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies which I edited for a more detailed history.http://fas-polisci.rutgers.edu/davis/ARTICLES/IJCISSectarianIdentities.611.pdf ). Suffice it to say that there have always been individual sectarian politicians in Iraqi politics.  Think, for example, of the Sunni Arab sectarian, Colonel cAbd al-Salam cArif, who rose of power after the 1958 military coup d’état against the Hashimite monarchy. 

However, no political party before the 1980s defined itself in explicitly sectarian terms.  Even the al-Dacwa al-Islamiya Party (Islamic Call Party), formed by Shica clerics and political activists in the late 1950s, was formed to fight the attraction of Shica youth to the secularism of the Iraqi Communist Party, itself largely comprised of Shica members.

The sectarianization of Iraqi politics began with Saddam’s miscalculation in invading Iran in September 1980.  As Iraqi forces became boogied down in Iran, Saddam’s fear that Iraq’s Shica population would identify with their co-confessionalists in Shica a majority Iran was yet another misplaced assumption as evident by the tenacity with which Iraqi forces, 80% Shica, fought during the war.

Nevertheless, significant political and social damage was done as a result of Saddam’s efforts to vilify the “Persians” (al-furs) and, by extension, implicitly challenge the loyalty of Iraq’s Shica.  The severe UN sanctions regime of the 1990s led to the collapse of the national economy and education system and a turning inwards of Iraqis in all regions of the country.  With a steep decline in incomes, the end of foreign travel and reduced travel inside Iraq, the decline in newspaper readership, and the collapse of the book publishing industry, the interaction of Iraqis across regions was greatly reduced.[i]

Saddam’s “discovery” of religion in 1993, when he formed the so-called “Faith Campaign” (al-Hamla al-Imaniya), created a political space for sectarian entrepreneurs in which to exploit misinterpretations of Islam to promote their narrow political interests.  Meanwhile, Wahhabi elements in Saudi Arabi and the Arab Gulf used the regime’s weakness to promote sectarianism among Iraq’s Sunni Arab populace.  Sunnis who prayed 5 times a day and women who would wear a head scarf (al-hijab) received a monetary reward in return.  Rising illiteracy, especially among the poor, made it all the easier for political forces with ill intentions to implement their socially destructive objectives.

The US invasion of 2003
The toppling of Saddam Husayn in April 2003 could have been a watershed moment in Iraq.  If the ethnically and religiously integrated Iraqi conscript army had been used to prevent the development of the insurgency Saddam and his henchmen had planned in the event of their defeat, the extreme violence in Iraq, which developed shortly after George W. Bush proclaimed “mission accomplished," could have been avoided. 

If the Bush administration had promoted a government comprised of secular politicians and respected technocrats, e.g., Adnan Pachachi and oil expert, Thamir Ghadban, which was formed with the assistance of respected, non-sectarian clerics – think of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Ayatollah Muhammad Bahr al-cUlum – what a different political system would exist in Iraq today.

Instead, the Bush administration, ignoring the advice of experienced Iraq experts in the Department of State, the academy, and even the military and intelligence services, facilitated the rise of arch-sectarians and “carpetbaggers,” such as cAbd al- cAziz al-Hakim, Ahmad Chalabi, and Nuri al-Maliki, whose agendas were in no sense concerned with the needs of the Iraqi people, namely, social services, civically oriented political leadership and national reconciliation.

The incredibly violent insurgency between 2003 and 2008 could have been avoided along with the lives of 1000s of Iraqis and US service personnel.  Having selected Nuri al-Maliki to become prime minister in 2006, and then helping him manipulate election results in 2010 to remain in power, resulted in the catastrophe in which the so-called Islamic States (Dacish) seized Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and a third of Iraq’s territory, in 2014.

The Dacish’s institutionalization of its power in Iraq and neighboring Syria led to the brutal deaths of thousands, sex slavery and the genocide imposed on minority populations, the destruction of much of Iraq and Syria’s precious cultural heritage, and the almost complete destruction of Mosul during the campaign to retake the city in 2016, along with many towns and villages in al-Anbar and other Sunni majority provinces.  By its own estimate, the cost of rebuilding what the Dacish destroyed will cost Iraq $88 billion.  

Nuri al-Maliki’s sectarian policies also fostered the creation of three powerful militias, all with close ties to the Iranian regime.  At various times after 2014, these militias threatened to attack American forces in Iraq, even though it was US forces which trained the elite Counter Terrorism Services which were instrumental in defeating the Dacish.

The May 12th elections
In light of this background, the very ability of Iraq to have conducted 4 rounds of national parliamentary elections since 2003, and so soon after the incredibly difficult campaign to rid Mosul and north central Iraq of the Dacish, speaks volumes to the tenacity with which Iraqis reject terrorism and still hope to enact a democratic system.

Most evident in the elections was the overall mood of the country which soundly rejected the continued infusing of politics with “religion.” Iraqis have become sick and tired of the politicization of religion.  (Indeed, in focus groups I conducted with 600 Iraqi youth, a large majority refused to attend the Friday khutba, arguing that clerics delivered political harangues and thus were not men of religion). 

All the talk about Islam by politicians, (Hayder al-Abadi excluded) hasn’t resulted in improved social services, increased employment, a better education system, greater rights for women, utilizing the creativity of youth (70% of the population under 30), or developing a more diversified and self-reliant economy (which Iraqis complain “produces nothing”).  The emerging coalition of “Sa’irun” (On the Path to Reform) - the Sadrist Trend and the Iraqi Communist Party – and al-Abadi’s “Nasr” coalition, which will probably be supported by Ayad Allawi’s al-Wataniya coalition, and Ammar al-Hakim’s al-Hikma coalition can finally begin to address these problems.

Despite the prominent position of the Sa’irun Coalition, the Iranians have made a strong effort to create a new government formed under Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the “Fath” Coalition (and the Badr Organization militia), which obtained 47 seats to Sa’irun’s 54 seats.  The Iranian strategy has been to supplement al-Amiri’s efforts to win the support of small parties by offering them ministries.  The leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' al-Quds Forces, Qassem Solemani, has been meeting with the 2 main Kurdish parties, offering the Kurds guarantees that they would have access to Kirkuk’s oil and natural gas resources in return for supporting “Fath.” 

Still angry at the US for not supporting the Kurdish Independence Referendum in September 2017, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) in particular seems receptive to these Iranian entreaties.  The Gorran (Change) Movement and the PUK, which helped Iraq’s Federal Army retake Kirkuk and surrounding areas after the failure of the September 2017 Referendum, seems less enamored with the Iranian offer.  Nevertheless, clearly Iran seems to be exerting maximum effort to shape the new government after the May 12th elections.

Meanwhile, the United States, after foolishly trying initially to convince Prime Minister al-Abadi to forma a government with al-Maliki's State of Law Coalition, in an effort to exclude the Sadrists, now seems to have accepted the inevitable, i.e., allowing the Sadrists to express the will of the people and gaining access to power.

On the negative side, there were reports of electoral irregularities in the city of Kirkuk and in the north central provinces of al-Anbar, Salahidin, Ninawa, and Diyala, all of which have large refugee populations.  In response to over 2000 complaints, and at the urging of Council of Deputies (Parliament) Speaker, Salim al-Jaburi, who lost support in the elections, the parliament voted to nullify a large number of votes in polling stations for refugees in north central Iraq, in Kirkuk and Baghdad governorates, in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), and by Iraqis casting votes outside Iraq.

That these irregularities were not just the response of parties which failed to do well in the elections, Jan Kubic, the United Nations Special Observer for Iraq, called for at least a partial manual recount of the votes.  Nevertheless, any change in the vote totals would not likely adversely affect the Sa’irun Coalition whose main source of votes was in Iraqis south-central and southern provinces.

At the end of the day, it seems that a partial, manual recount will be conducted.  If major discrepancies are discovered in contested voting districts, then a full recount will occur.  However, it is doubtful that new elections will be held and that the Sa’irun-Nasr-Hikma Coalition will be prevented from forming a government.

The “Trump effect”
The US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Agreement (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) was a blow to the Western alliance.  There is no question that it created more strains between the US and its post-WWII European and NATO allies who lobbied hard against President Trump abrogating US participation in the accord.  Even Russia and China opposed Trump’s decision.

That said, the withdrawal from the JCPOA was accompanied by the imposition of new stringent sanctions on the Islamic Republic.  These actions included secondary sanctions which will force corporations doing business in the US to decide whether their investments in Iran are of greater importance than their investments in the US.  Already the French energy giant, Total, and the Siemens Corporation in Germany, have indicated that American interests will take precedent over Iranian investments and that they will withdraw from the Iranian market.

Iran has seen the value of its currency drop by 50% since December 2017.  Demonstrations have taken place in many parts of the country, even in rural areas traditionally known as bastions of regime support, against the rise in the prices and availability of essential goods.  In a number of instances, demonstrators have protested the reduction of government subsidies while the Iranian regime continues to provide large amounts of funds to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Asad and to militias in Iraq and Lebanon (Hizballah).

The 3 dominant militias – the Badr Organization, the League of the Righteous People and the Hizballah Brigades – gained widespread support for their struggle against the Da’ish after it seized Mosul in June 2014 and massacred large numbers of Shica and minority groups in the areas it seized.  However, efforts to translate that support into creating a separate autonomous military force through manipulating the Iraqi parliament eroded their popularity.

With a weakened economy, the Iranian regime will find it increasingly difficult to provide the same levels of financial largesse to its agents in Iraq, namely the militias, as it has done in the past.  Iran’s diminished role in funding pro-Iranian forces in Iraq, combined with the decline in the Iraqi militias’ popularity (remembering that it was Iraqi Counter Terrorism Services which liberated Mosul, not the militias), the Trump decision to leave the JCPOA may actually contribute to making the cross-ethnosectarian coalition currently being formed successful, not just in forming a government but in being able to fight corruption, improve social services and bring a measure of stability to Iraq’s political system. 


[i] Although I would note that, during a conference in al-Najaf in 2014, I met a Sunni Arab graduate student in history from Tikrit University which the conference participants were visiting the Iman Ali Shrine.  I assumed this was his first visit to al-Najaf and the Shrine.  However, he indicated that his parents had brought him to the Shrine during the 1990s when he was young, despite the fact that they were Sunnis and despite the financial hardship that travel from Tikrit to al-Najaf at that time entailed.