MESOP – TOP OF THE AGENDA – Biden Visits Iraq Amid Concerns Over Stability

Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Baghdad Thursday, seeking to bolster the Iraqi government in its fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (WSJ). Biden’s trip makes him the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit since the 2011 troop withdrawal. In 2014 U.S. troops returned to the country; they now number around 4,000. The visit comes after weeks of unrest and rallies by supporters of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and demands to end government corruption and mismanagement (AP). Biden also flew to Erbil to meet with the president of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, Masoud Barzani (NYT).

“Prime Minister Abadi has weathered an incredible political storm over the last few weeks. Escalating protests led by the Sadrists prompted him to propose a technocratic cabinet, which was then rejected by the leaders of political blocs. The ensuing uproar prompted two former Prime Ministers—Nouri al-Maliki and Ayad Allawi—to stage a sit-in in parliament in an effort to overthrow the Abadi government. Although the fate of parliamentary speaker Salim al-Jibouri remains uncertain, for now it looks like the rebels simply do not have the numbers that they would need to defeat the Prime Minister. As Abadi emerges from this latest upheaval, the pressing issue remains that Iraq is running out of money and that the current public sector salary bill is completely unsupportable,” writes Nussaibah Younis for the Atlantic Council.

“The Obama administration’s original plans to withdraw all combat forces from Iraq and allow the Iraqis to sort out their own problems have now confronted reality. Given the president’s recent expressions of regret that the U.S. did not do more for Libya, one can imagine a sober realization that the U.S. has too much at stake in Iraq to leave Baghdad to its own devices,” writes Ellen Laipson for the World Politics Review.

“While effort is being poured into the military component to fight ISIS, including the training of local allies in both Iraq and Syria, what we haven’t heard is who will govern and administrate Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, the two main Syrian cities under ISIS rule, or Mosul in Iraq. Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city with a complex ethnic makeup, made governance a constant problem for the Americans during the Iraq war. The various local armed groups—Iraqi Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni militias—and the communities from which they spring resist rule by others. This is especially true in the wake of the many war crimes committed. Is there a plan for governance of these liberated spaces or will we again watch the Islamic State return, perhaps in a different, gentler and more clever version as al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria did?” writes Robert Ford for the Middle East Institute.