In the wake of the violence that followed the
2003 invasion, Iraq appears to have achieved a
modicum of stability. U.S. troops have withdrawn
and, with the help of rising oil production, the state
has financial resources and growing clout in the
region. With a new constitution in place and with
various parties competing for power in a federal
system, it might be considered that the country is
on its way to consolidating a democracy.
However, Iraq has been profoundly traumatised
by its years of civil war. Sectarian parties now
dominate the institutions of the state and the
battle lines of politics, generating eruptions of
targeted violence. Political equilibrium is likely
to be achieved around a Shia-dominated central
government, which may occur after the scheduled
2014 elections, but this is likely to come at the
cost of constant tensions with local powers and
the autonomous Kurdish north, exposing the
country to the risk of political brinkmanship.
Far from resolving concerns over economic
development and youth unemployment, oil
wealth is reinforcing the drift towards enhanced
central power, intensifying the stakes of political
competition and extinguishing small-business
growth. The losers include Iraqi youth, who
formed part of the country’s own “Arab Spring” –
the “Days of Rage” in 2011. Social indicators are
likely to remain stagnant as rampant corruption
prevents Iraq from transforming its resource
wealth into development outcomes for its citizens.
Iraq certainly appears set to re-emerge as a
regional force and an international energy power.
But sectarian tensions across the Syrian border,
Kurdish unrest, and the evolving Shia-Sunni
split across the region will fan the instability and
divisiveness that currently stand at the heart of
post-2003 Iraqi politics. The risks of a contested
authoritarian drift or a further bout of conflict
remain very real.