After ISIS: Politics, Deal-Making, and the Struggle for Iraq’s Future | Wilson Center
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After ISIS: Politics, Deal-Making, and the Struggle for Iraq’s Future

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Webcast Recap

Four experts offered their analysis on the political, social, and economic future of Iraq as ISIS continues to lose leverage in the region.

On July 21, 2016, the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center and American University of Iraq, Sulaimani hosted the event “After ISIS: Politics, Deal Making and the Struggle for Iraq’s Future,” with Mina Al-Oraibi, Senior Fellow at the Institute of State Effectiveness; Akeel Abbas, Professor at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani; Christine van den Toorn, Director of the Institute of Regional and International Studies at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani; and Bilal Wahab, Professor of International Studies ​ and Director of the Center for Development and Natural Resources at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. Henri J. Barkey, Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, moderated the event.

Al-Oraibi began by focusing on the strategic importance of Mosul (Iraq’s second largest city) for Iraq, the United States, Turkey, and Iran. She said that with Mosul’s rich urban history, educational centers, and ethnic diversity, the international effort to liberate Mosul will be vital in determining Iraq’s future. The recent $2 billion pledge, made by a coalition of countries during a conference in Washington, to assist the government and people of Iraq with recovery will only be effective in rebuilding the country, Al-Oraibi indicated, if three issues are addressed. First, she noted the labor market must be revived to create opportunities for individuals who have been out of the work force for 10-12 years. Second, she highlighted that effective governance through security mechanisms will make citizens feel safe and assure them that their country can be led by individuals without the use of force. Third, Al-Oraibi stressed one of the biggest challenges for rebuilding Iraq is building trust among ethnic communities and persuading them to reconcile their differences to facilitate long-term peace.

Abbas expounded on Al-Oraibi’s point regarding ethnic identity and community reconciliation. He explained why Iraq is currently struggling to make the transition from a model of power-sharing between different ethno-sectarian communities, as exemplified in Law 21 of the Iraqi Constitution—which allows provinces to run their own security and individual affairs—to a majoritarian system. He argued that members from these ethnic communities are reestablishing the “narrative of victimhood” and are still plagued by memories of their respective experiences of persecution. Abbas discussed the dichotomy of Iraqi identity versus religious identity and how these ideas, while conflicting at times, will need to be reconciled in the future to ensure Iraq’s legitimacy as a nation-state by its own citizens. 

Wahab analyzed the Kurdish component of Iraq’s economic future and its impact on alliances between Iran and Turkey. While most of the current economy is fueled by the war-time conflict, which includes heavy government intervention, he urged diversifying economic policies, reducing dependence on oil, and opening up the market for economic reform to wean citizens off the notion that conflict is necessary to fuel the economy. Because of the power vacuum created in Iraq, Wahab noted that Turkey and Iran will push to carve out their influence in the Kurdistan region post-ISIS, creating an economic divide between urban and rural areas.

Van den Toorn reiterated several of the co-panelists points by discussing on-the-ground work in areas liberated from ISIS. She advocated for a bottom-up, inside-out manner of local deal making so different parties could participate as major stakeholders in the peace-building process. She cites Tikrit, a city held up by the Iraqi government and its international backers, as a success story in the fight against ISIS due to government intervention. Given the new financial pledge, Van den Toorn raised the following questions: Who in the government will manage the reconstruction fund? And how will corruption be avoided?

In the question and answer portion of the event, the panel responded to a question regarding the status of disputed territories. Al-Oraibi noted the difficulty Iraqi officials will have in resolving territory disputes that are not historically based in the constitution. Thus, he said, the prospect of Arab-Kurdish conflict over oil-rich Kirkuk and other disputed territories will threaten the country’s stability post-ISIS.

By Sara Abdel-Rahim, Middle East Program


  • Christine van de Toorn

    Director, Institute of Regional and International Studies, American University of Iraq, Sulaimani
  • Akeel Abbas

    Professor, American University of Iraq, Sulaimani
  • Mina Al-Oraibi

    Senior Fellow, Institute of State Effectiveness
  • Bilal Wahab

    Professor, International Studies, and Director, Center for Development and Natural Resources, American University of Iraq, Sulaimani
  • Henri J. Barkey

    Former Director, Middle East Program