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Many assume that the country of Iraq is as ancient and steeped in history as the peoples who inhabit it. However, Iraq is a recent addition to the Middle East. The modern country of Iraq has existed for less than 100 years. In that time, it has played a pivotal role in world foreign affairs. This article will discuss the creation of Modern Iraq, its foreign policy agenda, and the internal tensions that continually test its national integrity.



A Background of Iraq

The Creation of Modern Iraq

Iraq, like many Middle Eastern countries, can trace its origins to British intervention. During World War I, Iraq was nothing more than one of the many provinces of a very large nation called the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire covered a large area from Turkey all the way to the borders of Egypt. This large region had been ruled as a homogeneous nation for hundreds and hundreds of years. However, with the rise of industrialization in the West, the Ottoman empire found itself losing power. Its distant and diverse regions made creation of one national policy, and industrialization very difficult. When World War I arrived, the Ottoman Empire saw a chance to win back some of its lost glory. In a bid to revitalize the waning empire, the Ottomans allied with Germany. While the goal had been to strengthen the Empire, this war would be its last.

The Ottoman Empire fell alongside Germany and the rest of the Central Powers. For the Ottoman Empire, the peace was more devastating than the war. The French and the British were awarded mandates to govern the remaining provinces of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. World War I was the first mechanized war. The vehicle that both sides had relied on demonstrated the importance of oil to a modern nation-state and had sparked British and French interest in the region. Unlike European countries who were allowed to govern themselves, the Ottoman provinces were placed under the direct control of Britain and France.

The British and the French were confronted with a new challenge, how to divide the regions between themselves. The two powers divided up resources and population in a power sharing arrangement. The new countries to be created within these borders were determined, not by shared history, but by arbitrary decisions of these outside powers. In Europe and most other areas of the world, borders serve to separate different cultural and ethnic populations. In France, the majority of the population have a French heritage. In Germany, the culture is German, Greece is Greek, England is English, and so on. This means that these nations are bound together by shared cultures, traditions, and beliefs. This shared heritage serves as glue to hold the nation together. However, Iraq was not founded in this way. The arbitrary borders designed to equally divide populations and resources between the French and the British did not divide the Iraqis along ethnic and cultural lines. The very important outcome is that Iraq is a single nation with three distinctive, separate, and powerful ethnic and cultural blocks within it.

The borders forced together Shiites, Kurds, and Sunnis. These three groups have distinctive cultures, traditions, and religions. This forced merger would be the beginning of inter-sectarian tensions that still haunt Iraq to this day. Imagine if Germans, French, and English were forced to live in a country the size of Pennsylvania. How would the French and English react to a German King? How would the Germans react to being forced to abide by French traditions? Conflict would likely ensue between these different peoples, much like it has in Iraq. In Iraq, this has led to more than a decade of conflict between different sects of the Iraqi people, with each group vying to protect their own constituents and their own power.

Brief History Of Modern Iraq

After World War I, the British government took over three different territories of the Ottoman Empire which it compressed into Iraq. The British were tasked with forming a government capable of ruling Iraq. However, the British Empire was not the strongman that it had once been. Governing its vast empire and the new mandate territories proved to be a strain on the British. Soon, it became much more appealing to make it appear that Iraq had a stable and functioning government than to actually provide it with one. To this end, the British worked with a small group of Sunni elites to provide the illusion that Iraq was actually conforming with the League of Nation's mandate.

At the end of the British mandate, the British Empire installed a long time ally in King Faisal. However, in 1932, he was removed by the general public. This began a trend of coup and counter-coup that would not end until the rise of the Baathist party. Tensions between different sects continued to grow. War developed between different sects. The Kurds in the northwest attempted to gain independence, but were defeated. Different groups overthrew one another in an attempt to gain dominance.

The final revolution came when the Ba'ath party took control of Iraq. The Ba'ath party was a primarily Sunni party. However, Iraq was a majority Shia state. This instituted a government where the minority ruled. The Government of Iraq became a wedge between the sects of Iraq. Its preferential treatment of Sunnis furthered the divide between the Sunni sect and the rest of Iraq. This was an attempt to create loyalty to the party by utilizing sectarian ties. Sunni's became reliant on the party for support, advancement, and security.

Eventually, the Ba'ath party was taken over by Saddam Hussein, the former head of the Ba'ath secret police. Under his leadership, Iraq began a bloody and long war with Iran. The Iran-Iraq war would ravage both nations and see the construction and use of chemical weapons by both sides. During the Iran-Iraq war, Iran capitalized on these divisions by arming and enabling Kurdish rebels in the north. Kurds have long desired an independent state. The rebels successfully took over the town of Halabja. This town would stand as an example to the Iraqi people of the dangers of asserting themselves. Saddam Hussein utilized chemical weapons to kill more than 3,000 citizens of Halajba. Halajba would also serve as a reminder to the Kurds of the dangers of the central government.

Desert Storm-Present

The messy borders of the Persian Gulf can once again be attributed to this conflict. Kuwait and Iraq were once part of the same Ottoman district. After World War I, they had been separated by the British as a way to reward two allies with their own regions. When Saddam Hussein rose to power, he saw Kuwait as a weak, vulnerable, and rich target to his south. He accused the small nation of exceeding its OPEC quota. Meaning that it had sold more oil than agreed to and thus made a profit while dropping the price of oil for other nations. He coupled this charge with the idea that Kuwait had been a part of Iraq in the past to justify Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait in an effort to seize its oil rich fields and then push further south to annex the undefended northern fields of Saudi Arabia. However, such a move challenged the entire balance of oil power in the gulf. Attaining that much control of production would have given Iraq a near monopoly on oil production. Seeing its oil supplies threatened, the world rallied to the defense of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

In what was one of the most successful military actions in world history, the Iraqi army was systematically destroyed. Many believe that the importance of this war was in its validation of military power. However, its true importance lay in what it had failed to accomplish. After the successful military invasion, Kurds in the north once again rose up against Saddam Hussein, feeling that statements made by the coalition would support their revolution. Not only did the coalition allow the Iraqi military to destroy the Kurdish rebellion in the North, they allowed them to violate the no-fly zone and bring to bear helicopters against the ill-supplied rebels.

Here, we see a validation of sectarian mistrust and of mistrust of Western promises. Not only did the coalition allow a genocidal dictator stay in power; they allowed him to violate his terms of surrender to destroy an uprising against him.

The Iraq-War

The Iraq War is one of the most complex wars in recent history. This section will provide a basic understanding of the reasons it occurred, and will focus mainly on the lasting outcomes it has had on modern Iraq and the nation you will be representing.

The Invasion of Iraq was originally motivated by a false corollary between Iraq and its supposed support of Islamic terror aimed against the U.S. This motive was floated by the George W. Bush administration as a justification for the invasion. However, testimony, evidence, and even CIA intelligence disproved this connection before the invasion began. The Bush administration immediately shifted its justification to Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), claiming that Iraq possessed WMDs and would use them.

The argument was presented to the United Nations by then Secretary of State Colin Powell. It is now clear that, unbeknownst to Powell, the decision to invade Iraq had been made months before he spoke to the UN, and would proceed regardless of whether Iraq actually possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction. During the run up to war, U.N. weapons inspectors strongly stated that it did not appear that Iraq possessed any WMDs that warranted the invasion. Their warnings fell on deaf ears. The outcome was a war based on false pretenses, which lead to a deeply embittered, divided, damaged, and traumatized Iraq.

The war would bring to the surface the sectarian tensions which had been suppressed for so long, and so brutally, by the Hussein regime. The war against the Iraqi state took shape quickly. It began on March 20, 2003 and ended on the 9th of April 2003. Saddam had relied on brutal repression by the military to keep the different sects in Iraq under control. With the Iraqi central government destroyed and the Iraqi military disbanded, the only institution keeping Iraq's sectarian strife controlled was removed. What would follow would be an eight year war of attrition which would end with an American withdrawal under uncertain terms of victory.

In 2004, the period known as the Iraq Civil War began, with sectarian militias and armies taking to the field across Iraq. Shia militias warred with Sunni militias. Their attacks turned from coalition forces to the Iraqi populace. Within Iraq, neighborhoods that had been once mixed Shia and Sunni, were quickly divided. The sectarian violence continued to escalate. The United States attempted several different strategies to quell the violence. The most effective was the re-integration of sectarian militia groups into the standing army, the same policy used by Saddam Hussein. Between 2004 and 2008, a fierce battle between Sunni, Shia, and Kurd factions ravaged Iraq. The only effective means of bringing an end to the violence was to bring the militias and their leaders into the military leadership and government, a policy is known as enfranchisement. Violence is normally an attempt to influence the course of events when no other means is available. By bringing the militias into the decision-making process, the participants were given a nonviolent means by which to influence the future of Iraq. This created a safety valve for sectarian tensions within Iraq. The death toll for this period is most likely around 110,000 Iraqis killed. To put this in perspective, it means that every family in Iraq had at least one close relative--someone as close as an uncle or an aunt--killed.

The Creation of a new Government

In 2005, Iraqis voted for a new constitution. The Iraqi constitution provided for a democratic, secular state. While the construction acknowledges Islam as its guide, it makes sure to ease the fears of the minorities within Iraq. It states that no law shall be made which impinges on democracy, religious freedom, Islam, or personal rights. The government this establishes is very similar to many Western Democracies. There is a Prime Minister who holds the executive powers of government, a bicameral legislative branch which legislates the laws of the nation and, lastly, a high court, responsible for enforcing the constitution and interpreting the law.

As in the U.S., the legislature, Council of Representatives and the Council of Federation are elected in local elections held in the different regions of Iraq. After the legislature is elected they then discuss amongst themselves who should be elected, from their number, to head the government and become the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister must be able to capture the majority of the elected members of Parliament in order to be elected.

In 2010, the current government of Iraq was elected. The election took 9 months to be finalized, and accusations of rigging and voter intimidation were rampant. This is the current government of which you are a part.

2010 Elections

The 2010 elections would be the first to test the legitimacy of the Iraqi democratic system. They did not go smoothly. The elections were plagued with violence. More than 110 civilians were killed during the elections. From the moment the polls closed, complaints of vote rigging and fraud flooded in. In addition to this, several politicians had been banned from taking part in the elections, because of past ties to the the Hussein regime. Still, though not a pretty election, it appears that the 2010 election was broadly speaking, free and fair. The vast majority of ballots were cast, counted, and tallied correctly. While Nuri-Al Malaki was accused of fraud, his party finished second, lending more credibility to the election. Still, the process of electing the Prime Minister would drag on for another nine-months.

The election of the parliament was only the first step; next they had to elect the executive. The members of Parliament fought amongst themselves for nine months before they agreed upon who the Prime Minister would be. The chief problem was inter-sect rivalry. A Prime Minister and his cabinet had to be elected which would not give one sect too great of power over another. Shia, Kurd, and Sunni, all had to be given some power in the new government. Finally, nine-months after the election of the parliament, a government was formed which satisfied the desires of all in parliament. The final outcome of the election placed Nuri-Al Malaki in the position of Prime Minister. Mr. Malaki has a long history in Iraq politics and is a representative of the Shia sect. Jalal Al-Talabani was elected to be the President of Iraq, and represents the Kurdish sect. The Deputy Prime Minister was awarded to Saleh al-Mutlaq of the Sunni sect. Here, we see a division of power amongst the sects which ensures that each sect will have some control over the direction of government.

The Iraqi Government

The Role of the Prime Minister

The Prime Minister is the executive of government. He commands the military, may propose legislation, negotiates on behalf of the nation, and may make commitments on behalf of the nation. The Prime Minister fulfills the same essential role as President in the United States. He has oversight over the various ministries of government and is responsible for enforcing the laws passed by the Parliament.

One of the key responsibilities he has is furthering the ambitions of Iraq through foreign affairs. The Prime Minister is responsible for working with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the President to negotiate with other nations to benefit the Nation of Iraq. These negotiations may be for foreign aid, trade relationships, access to ports, better relations with once enemies. Nations do not exist in a vacuum. In order for one to flourish, it will undoubtedly need something from another. It is the Prime Minister's responsibility to create a strategy which will ensure that his nation gets what it needs from the world and flourishes. The Prime Minister should be seen as the leader who charts the path of the nation.

The Prime Minister is also the ultimate heavy hitter. When added emphasis must be brought to bear on an issue, he will reinforce the President's message in the media. When negotiations stall, it will be he who flies out to lend support to his Minister of Foreign Affairs. As he holds the most power in Iraq, he should be seen as a resource to be used sparingly. His appearance should be seen as an exclamation mark. If every sentence has one, it becomes impossible to tell which are truly important.

The President

The President is the communicator for the government. While his position lacks many real powers, it is the figurehead of government. The President personifies the nation itself. He oversees military parades, official ceremonies, state visits. He is the official representative of the Iraqi people. It is his duty to represent their needs to the world abroad. As such, he is generally the one arguing for the needs of Iraq. He can be seen on television, providing interviews, or in the newspaper writing articles. His job is to present Iraq "as it should be" and to use the media to influence the world's view of Iraq.

The President must work closely with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister to craft a message for the media, and for foreign diplomats, which will advance the goals of the Iraqi government. This message must be made in such a way that it reinforces the efforts of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs

The Minister of Foreign Affairs is the chief diplomat of the Iraqi government. He is expected to be the foreign policy expert and chief negotiator. He advises the Prime Minister on creating a strategy for the Iraqi government, works with the President to implement this strategy through messaging, and negotiates directly with the diplomats of other nations when an issue must be resolved directly. His job is to lay the groundwork, to write out the treaties, conduct the negotiations, and sell the product of Iraq to other nations. With the help of the President, he is to position Iraq in a way that it will achieve through negotiations an outcome good enough that the Prime Minister will be able to bring it to Parliament for ratification.

Iraqi Foreign Affair Goals

Iraq has a very commonly-held position on the Arab-Israeli conflict. It supports the position and goals of the Palestinian people. This means that Iraq wants to see the ambitions of the Palestinian people achieved. Iraqi interests in Israel are not direct. It does not have any strong security concerns with Israel, nor any trade concerns. What it has are public policy concerns. The Iraqi people are pro-Palestine and anti-Israel. This means that the Government must adopt a policy which mirrors this reality. However, they recognize that being openly antagonistic towards Israel will result in repercussions from Western partners. In order to appease both sides, they have adopted a policy of supporting the Government of Palestine.

Iraq has many, many internal problems, aqnd it does not want to exacerbate these problems with external ones. Iraq can be expected to support the Palestinian people through statements in their defense, advocating for their rights, providing support at the U.N, and even through limited material support. However, Iraq is still a healing nation. To expect it to take on the world for the cause of the Palestinians is asking too much.

Iraq-Syria Relations

Iraqi relations with Syria are often strained. For years, the two nations were estranged, diplomatically. However, after the Iraq War, the two nations began to mend their relationship. During times of peace, the two nations battled diplomatically for influence in the region. However, with the war in Syria escalating, and Iraq having a very long border with Syria, the relationship they experienced is once again changing.

The Iraqi Government has not taken a strong position on the Syrian Civil war. It has opened a refugee camp. However, it has neither condemned nor endorsed Syria. Here, we once again see Iraq hedging its bets. It cannot know whether or not the revolutionaries or the Government of Syria will come out victorious, so it waits. It does not commit itself to supporting one group over another. Also, as Iraq itself is separated by sectarian divide, the government cannot predict how the endorsement of one group over another would antagonize sects within its own borders. For Iraq, the best course of action is the gray middle ground.

Iraq-Iran Relations

Iraqi-Iranian relationships have evolved since the end of the Iraq war. Iran has become a partner for Iraq, helping to train its police and providing some development funds. This is not out of humanitarian motives. Iran and Iraq have a long border and can benefit greatly from mutual trade. Iran is a country secluded from trade, and the markets of Iraq provide a needed buyer for Iranian merchandise. Likewise, Iraq stands to benefit from direct trade with Iran.

However, for Iraq, there is a much more important reason to foster this relationship; stability. Iran was a key supporter of the Shia militias during the Iraq war. Iran has demonstrated that it is willing to support, militarily, its partners in other nations. This sends a clear signal to the government of Iraq that crossing Iran could lead to trouble down the road. Like we have seen in Iraq's dealings with other nations, there is no need to stir up trouble abroad. Since Iraq can profit from a relationship with Iran, there is no reason why it should not pursue it.

Iraq and the West

Iraq has strong relations with Western powers such as the U.S and the E.U. This is not necessarily out of an appreciation for the changes the West brought to Iraq, but because of a need for their continued support and financial help in rebuilding the Iraqi state. The U.S and E.U are still providing Iraq with crucial funds, supplies, and training for its military, state, and police. To sever these relationships would be foolish to say the least. Also, the West is a much needed market for Iraqi oil. Iraq had a long history of living under sanctions imposed by the West. Now, it needs its oil revenues more than ever. This means that Iraq is again in a position of not placing itself into a position of conflict.

While Iraq certainly needs the West, its markets and its support, this should not make one assume that it likes the West. The scars of war run deep amongst the Iraqi populace. The Iraqi government must make it clear to its people that it is not a puppet government. This means doing things that the West will not necessarily like. Strengthening ties with Iran and supporting the Palestinian people are both examples of steps Iraq has taken which anger some in the West. Still, it is important that Iraq has taken these steps as they demonstrate to the Iraqi people that the government is capable of independent action and represents the citizens, not outside interests.

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