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Q&A With Reidar Visser on the Iraqi Elections

Reidar Visser

  • Country: Norway
  • Title: Research Fellow, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs
  • Education: Oxford University
  • Website: Historiae

Samar: What can the United States hope to do in order to minimize the intrusion of Iran in all sectors of Iraq, most especially in the Iraqi government? Would the United States prefer to see a Sunni government or a Shia one beholden to the Iranian government?

Omar: Which side are the Iraqi people and government more likely to choose, the United States or Iran? (Question submitted via RealClearWorld)

A: The Status of Forces Agreement already considerably limits Washington’s room to maneuver, and the United States also chose to do nothing to address the obvious attacks on the democratic process by the pro-Iranian parties during the recent de-Baathification of candidates. The United States still possesses some leverage related to Iraq’s debt to Kuwait and the Iraqi government’s desire to obtain U.S. military hardware; if used wisely, that leverage could be used to achieve institutional national-reconciliation aims in Iraq -- such as a revised constitution -- that in turn could help limit Iranian influence.

Nadya Lubman: What sort of outcome would Iran like to see in these elections? Which figures and parties, in particular, is it backing, and what sort of support or other tactics is Tehran using to bring about this outcome?

A: Ever since local elections in January 2009, Iran has worked to prevent the tentative alliance between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iraqi nationalists that was emerging back then. The chief instruments here were the revival of an all-Shiite alliance, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), and a renewed emphasis on de-Baathification as a defining issue in Iraqi politics. This, it was hoped, would help re-create a more sectarian atmosphere of the kind that existed in the last parliamentary elections, in 2005. So far, it has been relatively successful.

Brown N. Ugbaja: The Shiite government led by Maliki seems intent on giving itself the upper hand in the coming election. If it is able to consolidate control, is there any indication that the Shiites are willing to

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