Mass Protests and the American-Iranian Competition in Iraq

EPC | 16 Jul 2020

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.

Meanwhile, the ongoing US–Iran competition being played out in Iraq casts a long shadow over the political, economic and security situations in the country, as well as the challenge of restoring the state’s arms control mechanisms and monopoly on the use of force. This is essential if the government is to restore its  prestige in the eyes of citizens.

Furthermore, Iraq’s economic hardships are now being aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the collapse of oil prices, necessitating painful corrective actions that will have highly negative social and political consequences.

In light of these political, geopolitical, security and economic challenges, this paper aims to determine Iraq’s present trajectory, the future of the protest movement and the potential for political and economic reforms going forward. Will Iraq become an open battlefield for US–Iran rivalry? How will Iran’s influence in Iraq evolve? how will the US respond if Iraq demands an end to its military presence in the country? and, finally, what shifts may occur in Iraq’s power structures and the relationships between the various ethnic and sectarian components of Iraqi society?

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