1 May 2013


Claire Spencer

Dr Claire Spencer

Senior Research Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme & Second Century Initiative

Jane Kinninmont

Deputy Head and Senior Research Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme

Omar Sirri


This report brings together a variety of perspectives on the state of Iraq ten years after the US-led invasion in 2003 and sets out some possible scenarios for the country's future.

It begins with an overview of the political changes that have been under way since the invasion, with a focus on conflict and political violence, the debate over the nation-state and the dynamics of a political transition weighed down by the legacies of dictatorship and occupation. The report discusses Iraq's domestic politics, foreign policy and relations with regional and international powers, as well as the impact that the regime change has had on perceptions of democracy, Middle Eastern authoritarianism and the role of Western intervention in the region.
  • Iraq has undergone a transition from a purely authoritarian system to one with an elected government. However, the levers of power used by the previous regime - organized violence, oil-funded state patronage and the use of communal differences for 'divide and rule' strategies - remain crucial factors in the country's politics.
  • Iraq's primary foreign policy preoccupation has been re-establishing sovereignty, and negotiating an end to the US occupation and seeking to end the country's UN Chapter VII status. However, factional divisions and the perceived weakness of state institutions mean there are significant incentives for neighbouring states to seek to influence the foreign and domestic policies of a country that has always had a major impact in the region.
  • Iran is undoubtedly the most influential external player in domestic Iraqi affairs, though not the only one. For its part, Iraq wants to balance its relations with Tehran and its partnership with the United States while maximizing its autonomy from both. Navigating this complex combination of alliances places Iraqi decision-makers in an uncomfortable position, above all over Syria, which poses serious risks to Iraq's own future.
  • Three main scenarios are laid out in the final section:

    Syria's conflict becomes the main driver of political trends in Iraq as Iraqi factions take increasingly polarized positions on Syria and pursue diametrically opposed policies in supporting the warring sides with money and fighters.

    Iraq becomes more resilient, resisting efforts by Al-Qaeda and others to exacerbate sectarian tensions, and hedging its bets on Syria.

    Iraqis remain fractious and disunited, avoiding state collapse but continuing to be heavily influenced by the agendas of competing regional powers.
  • Although Iraq embarked on a political transition ten years ago, it is by no means exempt from the demographic, political and economic drivers that underlay the Arab uprisings. Over time it will become harder for the political elite to blame the legacy of dictatorship, sanctions and war for the country’s problems. But it is as yet unclear to what extent future regional interactions, including Iraq’s relations with the rest of the Middle East, will be defined by competitive ethno-sectarian identity politics or by the sense of common aspirations that was articulated in the early days of the Arab uprisings.

Chapters and Contributors

IntroductionIraq Analysis: Then and Now - Claire SpencerIraq's Political Brinksmanship - Omar SirriThe Politics of Sectarianism in Iraq - Fanar HaddadFrom Power-Sharing to Majoritarianism: Iraq's Transitioning Political System - Nussaibah YounisIraq and Political Islam - Maha AzzamFrom the 'Kurdish Issue' to the 'Kurdistan Region of Iraq' - Gareth StansfieldThe Reconstruction That Never Was - David ButterIraq's Paradox: Winning Democracy and Losing the Rule of Law - Kamal Field al-Basri and Mudhar SebahiOil Economics and Politics - Jon MarksIraq's Foreign Policy, Ten Years On - Jane Kinninmont, Omar Sirri and Gareth StansfieldIraq and Iran - Hayder al-KhoeiGCC–Iraq Relations - Kristian Coates UlrichsenAll Fall Down: The Wider Impact of the Iraq Invasion on Ideas - Nadim ShehadiThe Myth of 'Democracy at the Barrel of a Gun' - Jane KinninmontA United States Preoccupied with Introspection - Jane Kinninmont and Omar SirriIsrael: A Decade after the War in Iraq - Yossi MekelbergBritish Relations with the Middle East: The Iraqi Shadow - Rosemary HollisConclusions and Future Scenarios
More on Iraq.