While the US announced, after the return of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi from Washington in August 2020, that it would reduce the size of its forces in Iraq by a third, to keep 3,500 personnel whom President Donald Trump promised to withdraw gradually over the next three years, this announcement did not stop the armed Shiite factions from continuing their missile attacks on the sites of the US forces, especially the area of the US Embassy in Baghdad and the vicinity of the airport. This prompted Washington to threaten to close its diplomatic mission in Baghdad and to respond to those launching the attacks, which would bring political and economic losses to Iraq.
Coinciding with the passage of hundred days since the formation of Mustafa al-Kadhimi's government, a period that is usually viewed as a probation period, the relationship between Kadhimi and a number of political blocs, particularly the Shiites, has been characterised by an overt escalation. This came about against the backdop of Kadhimi’s issuance, on 14 September 2020, of a list of appointments to senior positions in ministries and independent bodies, which was considered by some blocs as an "establishment of political quotas", while other blocs objected to it because it "falls outside the powers" of the Prime Minister.
The OPEC+ member states, led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, agreed in April 2020 to slash oil production by 9.7 million barrels per day (mbpd) in May and June – the deepest cuts ever agreed by the world’s oil producers. They aim to stabilize both oil markets and prices, which reached their lowest level in almost two decades due to the coronavirus. Iraq – the second largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia – agreed to a cut of 850,000 barrels per day (bpd). However, as with some other producers in the region, Iraq faces both the short-term challenges to its crisis-ridden economy posed by COVID-19 and those that necessitate fundamental long-term changes to its oil-dependent economic structure.
On 8 September 2020, the sixth meeting of the Iran-Turkey Cooperation Council was held under the chairmanship of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The meeting approved many common issues between the two sides as a gateway to enhancing their strategic relations at this stage. However, what is striking is that the meeting, which took place by means of videoconferencing, confirmed that the two countries would take joint steps in the region in a way that serves their interests, “including joint military and security operations, in countering terrorism and organised crime” groups. These are directly linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Iranian Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK). It did not take long hours before reports emerged of an escalation of Turkish and Iranian bombardment of the areas where these two organisations are deployed in the cities of Erbil and Dohuk in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi took the political elites by surprise on July 31, 2020 when he announced that early elections would be held on June 6, 2021. He has since been leading a hidden political battle with the largest parliamentary blocs over the early elections.
This paper sheds light on al-Kadhimi’s motives for bringing the elections forward, the stances of the political elites regarding the move, and the prospects for the early elections.
The visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to the US has gained great importance in the context of Iraqi-US relations, given the nature of the major changes taking place in the region and Iraq’s position within the framework of those shifts, as well as Iraq’s position in the US strategic perception and its role in the regional and international balances of power. At a time when the manifestations of the US-Iranian conflict in the region are increasing, Iraq emerges as the hottest arena of this conflict and its repercussions. Besides, the continued state of political instability in Iraq is linked to the continuation of the Iranian role in Iraq and the US continuous efforts to reduce that role and limit its effects.
Iraq today finds itself at a crossroads, beset by challenges and life-and-death decisions. The public protests that erupted in early October 2019 revealed a number of deep structural crises in the country, growing public resentment vis-à-vis the political elite, and an expanding rift between these political forces and the Iraqi street. They have ignited a conflict that has opened the door to all manner of possible future scenarios for the nation.
Following the defeat of ISIS in late 2017, Iraq has entered a new era. A number of key internal and external factors will determine Iraq’s future in this new epoch and will have a significant bearing on the security and stability of the entire region.
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