When Iraqis went to the polls on May 12, the country’s foreign policy was the last thing on their minds. For the vast majority, the central question about the next government was expressly local: Will it be able to deliver services, get the economy moving and, perhaps most important, curb corruption?
In a surprise turn, preliminary results from Iraq’s May 12 parliamentary vote indicate that a coalition led by controversial cleric Moqtada al-Sadr—a staunch opponent of both U.S. and Iranian influence in Iraq—won the most seats.
As Iraq prepares to vote on May 12, the public debate has been just a bit unusual. Following the country’s war against the Islamic State extremists, candidates are seeking votes with appeals across sectarian lines and more discussion of issues than in any other election campaign. This change is incremental but is one of several that make this a moment to step back and measure Iraq’s evolution since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Despite what Iraqis have suffered over 15 years—or perhaps because of it—the will to democratize is alive and growing. A real meaning of these elections is this: If the United States and the international community can sustain their engagement, Iraq has a chance to stabilize, and to turn back the inevitable future attempts to revive extremist violence.
Earlier this week, Russia’s Vladimir Putin began his fourth term. Ambassador William B. Taylor explains that Putin’s political longevity is a combination of Russia’s desire to feel important in the world again, Putin’s power over the media, and the support of powerful, wealthy friends. Nevertheless, Taylor says harsh U.S. sanctions combined with those from the international community have isolated and punished Russia for Putin’s provocations in Ukraine and elsewhere, meddling in elections, and cyberwarfare.
It has been over seven years since Mohamed Bouazizi’s protest sparked an uprising that led to the overthrow of longtime Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and spread throughout the Middle East. While the promise of the early days of the Arab uprising has evaporated throughout much of the region, Tunisia has continued its democratic transition in the face of economic and security challenges.
Tehran’s interventions in conflicts throughout the Middle East have become a particular point of contention for detractors of the Iran Deal, which placed constraints on the country's nuclear program without addressing its role in Syria, Yemen, and across the region. There is no place Iranian influence has played a more conspicuous role than in neighboring Iraq.
With last week’s attack aimed at discrediting the electoral process and dissuading Afghans from participating, the Islamic State has made clear that it intends to suppress Afghanistan’s democratic development. Afghanistan’s burgeoning independent media is one of the country’s major success stories and most-trusted institutions.
On May 6, Lebanese voters will elect a new parliament for the first time in nine years. This election introduces a new electoral law that scraps the former winner-take-all model in favor of a proportional representation system, aimed at opening the door for smaller parties and independent candidates to make it into parliament. While the election is an important development for Lebanon’s democracy and stability, it will be closely watched by regional and major powers alike.
When Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari met with President Trump on Monday, much attention was paid to the importance of counterterror efforts and economic investments that will help the country continue its climb out of its deep recession. These are both critical areas for U.S. focus and assistance, but will not ultimately be sufficient to resolve Nigeria’s internal and regional security challenges.
Phillipe Leroux-Martin testifying in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on April 18, 2018.