Report on Iraq and U.S. Policy

September 30, 2020 9:43 AM

The following is the Sept. 29, 2020 Congressional Research Service In Focus report, Iraq and U.S. Policy

From the report

Al Kadhimi Government Facing Numerous Challenges

In May 2020, Iraq’s parliament confirmed Iraqi National Intelligence Service director Mustafa al Kadhimi as Prime Minister, and in June finished confirmation of his cabinet members, bringing months of political deadlock over government leadership to a close. Upon taking office, Al Kadhimi declared that his government would serve in a transitional capacity and would work to improve security and fight corruption while preparing for early elections. Iraqi authorities have instituted curfews and travel restrictions in response to the Coronavirus Disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, which threatens public health, the economy, and public finances.

Prime Minister Al Kadhimi’s priorities include:

  • mobilizing resources to fight the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • “restricting weapons to state and military institutions”;
  • addressing what he calls “the worst economic situation since the formation of the Iraqi state”; and
  • “protecting the sovereignty and security of Iraq, continuing to fight terrorism, and providing a national vision on the future of foreign forces in Iraq.”

Al Kadhimi has called for early elections in June 2021 under a revamped electoral system, but fiscal pressures, political rivalries, and limited institutional capacity present serious hurdles to reform. A series of high profile assassinations in 2020 of protest leaders and of a prominent security researcher have intensified public scrutiny of Al Kadhimi’s credibility and his government’s ability to act against armed groups operating outside state authority. Ongoing rocket and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks against U.S. and Iraqi facilities and convoys further underscore these concerns. Islamic State insurgents also remain active, especially in rural areas.

To date, Al Kadhimi’s administration has focused on COVID-19 risks and responding to related economic and fiscal fallout. The Prime Minister visited the United States in August 2020 for strategic dialogue talks. Throughout September 2020, resurgent reform demands from Iraqi activists and U.S. pressure for action against Iran-backed armed groups dominated the policy agenda in Iraq, as COVID-19 infection rates continued to rise.

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