Iraq's strength, ambition, and aggressiveness were for decades a source of regional instability. Saddam Hussein invaded two neighbors (Iran and Kuwait) and oppressed his own population. But now, as Iraq undergoes a transformation to a more open and democratic society, it has become a fragmented country with highly contested politics that opens the door to regional interference and competition.

Iraq, Its Neighbors, and the United States examines how Iraq's evolving political order affects its complex relationships with its neighbors and the United States. The book depicts a region unbalanced, shaped by new and old tensions, struggling with a classic collective action dilemma, and anxious about Iraq's political future, as well as America's role in the region, all of which suggest trouble ahead absent concerted efforts to promote regional cooperation. In the volume's case studies, acclaimed scholars and experts review Iraq's bilateral relationships with Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Arab States, Syria, and Jordan and explore how Iraq's neighbors could advance the country's transition to security and stability.

Stemming from a unique multiyear study and dialogue initiative sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace, Iraq, Its Neighbors, and the United States also looks at the United States' relations with and long-term strategic interests in Iraq. The volume offers recommendations for how the United States also looks at the United States' relations with and long-term strategic interests in Iraq. The volume offers recommendations for how the United States can help Iraq strengthen and grow.

Since the American intervention in Iraq in 2003, Baghdad's relations with all of its neighbors have been heavily influenced by the American presence. That is bound to change as the American presence in Iraq is reduced. A 'new Iraq' is going to find itself navigating some very tricky waters in a 'new Middle East.' For those who want a reliable guide to the kinds of challenges that will face Iraq—as a new balance of power unfolds, this is a particularly timely and informative book.

William B. Quandt, University of Virginia

Henri J. Barkey is the Bernard L. and Bertha F. Cohen Professor in International Relations and International Relations Department Chair at Lehigh University. He served as a member of the U.S. State Department Policy Planning Staff (1998-2000). He has authored, co-authored and edited four books, the most recent being Turkey’s Kurdish Question (with Graham Fuller). Most recently he has written "The Endless Pursuit: Improving U.S.-Turkish Relations," in Morton Abramowitz (ed.) "Friends in Need: Turkey and the United States after September 11, "Cyprus: The Predictable Crisis," The National Interest with Philip H. Gordon, and a forthcoming U.S. Institute of Peace Special Report, "Turkey and Iraq: The Perils (and Prospects) of Proximity."

Scott B. Lasensky, co-author of Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace (USIP Press, 2008), is a senior program officer at the Institute's Center for Conflict Management and directed USIP's Iraq and Its Neighbors initiative.

Phebe Marr is the author of The Modern History of Iraq and a former senior fellow at USIP (2004-05).

Foreword by James A. Baker, III and Lee H. Hamilton

Q&A with the Editors

Why did you write this book?
For a quarter century, Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was a source of tension and uncertainty in the Middle East. Its demise has changed the nature and focus of instability in the region, as Iraq’s neighbors confront a situation that is unprecedented. The U.S.-led overthrow of the Hussein regime, and the instability that followed, upended Iraq’s relations with its neighbors, profoundly altered both the regional balance of power and America’s role in the region, and fundamentally changed assumptions about Iraq’s future.

For these reasons, and under the sponsorship of the United States Institute of Peace, a diverse team of country and area experts was assembled and charged with mapping these complex, multidimensional relationships. Individual case studies have been published as part of a research series that began with Henri Barkey’s 2005 study of Turkey and Iraq. Out of the series emerged a much broader effort to assess the full measure of Iraq’s regional relations and their impact on the strategic environment—an effort that produced this book. The comprehensive survey of regional relationships that forms the basis of this book begins and ends with Iraq. Iraq’s own political development is and will remain the key variable in the region’s strategic environment. It will have an overriding impact on how this set of regional relationships develops.

What new tensions have emerged under Iraq’s current political order?
Prior to 1991, Iraq’s military and political strength and Saddam’s ambition and aggressiveness were a major source of instability in the region.  The threat Iraq poses now and will for some time is its weakness, not its strength—specifically, its inability to act as a counterbalance to Iran’s regional ambitions and to contain the spillover effects of its fragile domestic situation.

The new Iraq is very different from preceding incarnations. It is a federal entity in which the Kurds have an important say in both domestic and foreign policy. No longer is it a “Sunni” state, as the Shiite majority has not only secured the right to vote in competitive elections but has also repeatedly demonstrated a baseline of cohesion that defies its many intrasectarian rifts. As Turkey and Iran gain influence in the region, Middle Eastern politics may become more fractured and decidedly less “Arab.” Iraq in the future will remain part of this new order, even if the nature and degree of its participation is not certain. It is also likely to be quite unconstrained by the traditional dogmas of Arab politics, given its ties with Iran, Turkey, and the United States. This shift has left Iraq’s Arab neighbors uneasy, and it could be a generation or more before they are fully reconciled with Iraq’s new political order. Moreover, Iraq is now ruled by an aggrieved political elite, some with their own scores to settle with Iraq’s neighbors, the United States, and opposing groups at home.

While Iraq’s fragility, its altered political landscape, and the U.S. interventions have led to new tensions, many things remain the same. Whether border disputes over water or oil production disagreements, some dynamics between Iraq and its neighbors are unchanged.

What challenges do Iraq’s neighbors face in the post-Saddam era?
Iraq’s neighbors face the prospect of political instability and the threat of civil war, whether sectarian or ethnic in nature. In a region where ethnic, sectarian, and cultural affiliations straddle boundaries, the likelihood of a regional contamination effect understandably concerns Iraq’s neighbors. The Syrian crisis has demonstrated that the new Iraq can also take sides in other countries’ internal divisions and strife.

What is the central challenge faced by the United States and Iraq?
The challenge for Washington—as well as for Iraq—is to foster greater cooperation among a disparate set of actors whose narrow interests could just as easily lead to competition and confrontation absent a refashioned regional order. The states will not always be on the same side of the numerous issues and problems confronting them; agreeing to disagree without losing sight of long-term interests will, therefore, be crucial.

What outlook do the authors of this volume have given the current situation in Iraq?
The dominant theme of this book—that of a region unbalanced, shaped by both new and old tensions, struggling with a classic collective-action dilemma and anxiety about Iraq’s political future and America’s role in the region—suggests trouble ahead absent more concerted efforts to promote regional cooperation. Different neighbors will continue to have different responses to developments in Iraq, based on their individual interests, their influence and their relationships with Washington.

What implications does the troop withdrawal have on America’s role in Iraq?
The withdrawal will inevitably lessen America’s ability to assert itself as

  • an arbiter of Iraqi domestic political disputes;
  • the principal provider of external assistance to the new Iraqi state; and
  • a defender of Iraq’s interests and sovereignty in regional and international forums.

What do you see as America’s role going forward?
America’s role in determining the course of the relationships with Iraq and its neighbors is profound, and under most scenarios it will continue to be so for some years to come. But Washington is not central. Neither is any one of Iraq’s neighbors, on its own. There is a tendency in the United States to overemphasize America’s role in determining outcomes, just as there is a tendency to conflate attempts by neighboring countries to intervene (through political manipulation, military assistance, business dealings, or economic aid) with actual impact. The reality of how Iraqi domestic politics develops, and the outcome of the popular protest movements sweeping the region, will remain decisive in shaping regional relations. Internal dynamics remain primary, not the implementation of any outside scheme or model.

How does this volume aid policymakers and practitioners handling Iraq’s evolving challenges?
The likelihood for complex challenges emerging at a moment’s notice will necessitate deeper diplomatic engagement among the United States, Iraq, and Iraq’s neighbors. With this in mind, we believe that this book has unique value in the breadth of its findings and in the common framework of analysis employed by the research team, and we hope that it will provide the policy community, scholars, and students with a comprehensive picture of the role that Iraq’s neighbors could play in advancing the country’s transition to security and stability.

Praise for "Iraq, Its Neighbors, and the United States"

While the Middle East is in a state of flux, this book tries to capture the picture of present complexities and future possibilities for Iraq, both in relationship to its neighbors and the United States. The result is an incisive, precise, and highly informative piece of work, which I highly recommend to students of the region and to policymakers.”

Ghassan Atiyyah, Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy

“Ten seasoned experts take their turn in describing first a changed and still changing Iraq now eight years into its post-Saddam era and thereafter in separate chapters the diplomacy of Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Syria, and Jordan vis-à-vis Iraq. Concluding chapters address Iraq in the context of Arab political reform and the American role. Abandon all jibes about collected works and committees. This is scholarship at its best.”

L. Carl Brown, Garrett Professor in Foreign Affairs Emeritus, Princeton University

“’Iraq, Its Neighbors, and the United States’ paints a comprehensive picture of a nation and region in the balance. This collection of case studies, ably edited by Henri Barkey, Scott Lasensky, and Phebe Marr, skillfully traces the continuities and ruptures—political, economic, ethnic, and religious—that characterize Iraq’s own internal dynamics as well as the external relationships between Iraq and its neighbors, with whom it is deeply enmeshed. The editors couch the question of Iraq within an effective analytical framework: through examining the interests, insecurities, threat perceptions, and strategic objectives of Iraq’s neighbors and of the United States, we arrive at a clearer awareness of Iraq itself, and the many and varied challenges to its stability, prosperity, and democracy. This is an integrated, holistic approach to understanding Iraq’s internal dynamics, and its new posture vis-à-vis the broader Middle East. Considering Iraq from the outside in and the inside out, a perception emerges of a country that, despite its powerful democratic aspirations and developing political and economic capacity, is still very much in thrall to sectarian contests and competing interests from both within and beyond its borders.”

Wendy Chamberlin, president of the Middle East Institute

“A timely and important book featuring the preeminent specialists on the region.”

Haleh Esfandiari, director Middle East Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

“This volume is the most up-to-date collection on what will be a major issue in the international politics of the Middle East for years to come—how Iraq reintegrates itself into regional politics. The authors of the chapters are among the best people writing about the topic. This is a very useful and timely contribution to the debate about Iraq as the deadline for complete American military withdrawal from the country approaches.”

F. Gregory Gause, III, University of Vermont

“Since the American intervention in Iraq in 2003, Baghdad’s relations with all of its neighbors have been heavily influenced by the American presence. That is bound to change as the American presence in Iraq is reduced. A ‘new Iraq’  is going to find itself navigating some very tricky waters in a ‘new Middle East’. For those who want a reliable guide to the kinds of challenges that will face Iraq—and the United States—as a new balance of power unfolds, this is a particularly timely and informative book.”

William B. Quandt, University of Virginia

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