20 years on - Iraq after the US invasion

20 years on - Iraq after the US invasion
Thursday 30 March 2023


Two decades after the US invasion, Iraq faces a multitude of challenges as the country seeks to rebuild damaged infrastructure, manage precious resources and limit foreign intervention and influence. In this special issue of the Near East Policy Forum (NEPF) quarterly update, we present five peer-reviewed articles analysing the economic and political challenges that confront Iraq as well as possible solutions that could allow Iraq to better secure its future.

As an independent academic platform, NEPF is committed to providing in-depth analysis of contemporary and emerging issues in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. Our analysis is unique in that all published articles undergo a rigorous double-blind peer-review process. Free and open access is provided for all articles published on nepf.org.au. Thank you to all of our contributing authors and also the ​Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies​ (CAIS) at the Australian National University (ANU) for their support through our working partnership.

Dr. Anas Iqtait & Samy Akil

Co-Founders - Near East Policy Forum

Iraq, the US invasion and Iran's regional strategy of influence

One of the legacies the US left in Iraq was an elitist political system – an oxymoron of both division and unity at the core, whilst completely out of touch with ordinary Iraqis. It is common knowledge that unrepresentative Iraqi political elites bid to share out the nation’s resources, with millions of Iraqis left unrepresented and without prospects. While the majority of Iraq’s populace struggle with existential crises, Iraq’s elites remain fortified and continue to govern through a system known as ‘muhasassa’ and ‘wasta’. In capitalising upon the strategically weak and divided Iraqi state – whilst working hard to maintain things as they are – there is a key driver in neighboring Iran. Tehran has not only come out on top as a result of the 2003 US occupation, but has also been able to utilise Iraq as a cash-cow to fund a comprehensive grand strategy in the Middle East.

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Climate change, drought and a return to traditional solutions

Despite being a historically water-rich country, Iraq faces demands from multiple directions for this critical resource: population growth, the legacy of multiple wars, transboundary water (mis)management and a changing climate. Rainwater harvesting during heavy rainfall periods is a method for replenishing groundwater reservoirs and reducing flood impacts, which has proven useful in dry areas of the Middle East. It is a traditional method, which has become largely abandoned in the development towards more industrial agriculture. For Iraq, rainwater harvesting through flood water spreading would be a cost effective way to store water, improve soil quality, and reduce flood risk in areas located close to the rivers, where most of Iraq’s population is located.

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Iraq's Fractured Healthcare System

While the Iraqi healthcare system was considered the envy of the Middle East region in the 1960s and 1970s, its demise has become painfully apparent over the last three decades. Key contributing factors have included decades of war, United Nations sanctions, sectarian conflict as well as the rise of Islamic State. In particular, the fall of Iraq’s health system began after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The imposition of a trade embargo on Iraq by the United Nations Security Council led to insufficient medical supplies, as well as the deaths of thousands of Iraqis from basic medical conditions such as diarrhoea. The Covid pandemic exacerbated the critical state of Iraq's healthcare system further.

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Can solar solve Iraq's chronic power outages crisis?

Iraqis endure, on average, 40 power outages every month –  placing Iraq in the unenviable position of sixth globally in terms of frequency of outages. However, Iraq’s power supply instability presents a conundrum given Iraq is the world’s fifth largest oil producer. Iraq’s power outage crisis is multidimensional with political, economic, and societal factors all affecting its ability to provide electricity. Iraqi electricity infrastructure has suffered extensive damage over the last 30 years including major conflicts since the 1980s. Several solutions have been recommended but perhaps one of the most ambitious projects is the plan to produce 10GW of renewable energy sources by primarily investing in solar using bilateral agreements specifically with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

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Reparation Challenges for Yezidi Survivors

The persecution of the Yezidi people, and in particular women, by Islamic State (IS) came to symbolise the brutality of the terrorist organisation. Recently, the Yezidi Survivors Law was ratified in Iraq and importantly provides a framework for reparations for many survivors of IS atrocities. However, as Yezidi, Shabak, and Turkmen survivors point out, the challenge now lies in the law’s implementation and in particular ensuring survivors’ access to various reparation initiatives in a timely, confidential, and non-retraumatising way.

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