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The Future of US-Iraq Relations

An important transition is underway in the official relationship between the United States and Iraq. Since late 2008, relations have been governed by two agreements: one related to the planned withdrawal of US forces from Iraq by 2011, and one that sets a strategic framework for the future of US-Iraq relations and for broad cooperation in fields including education, health, environment, and trade. This report examines the recent trends in US-Iraq relations and considers how continued engagement will affect the national interests of both countries. While Iraq and the United States may not be natural allies, with proper nurturing, prudent policymaking, and strengthened sectoral and institutional ties, a friendly, even strategic, partnership between Iraq and America over time is surely achievable. 

 The report is available in English, Arabic, and Kurdish. 

 Iraq’s New Reality

At this critical juncture in Iraq’s history, the Stimson Center and the Centre for International Governance Innovation are partnering to explore the linkages between Iraqi reconstruction, security and a political process of national reconciliation involving all Iraqis.This project, entitled Iraq’s New Reality, includes a series of workshops held in Canada and the United States, gathering leading experts to examine a set of key issues.


Iraq, its Neighbors, and the Obama Administration: Syrian and Saudi Perspectives

A group of experts sponsored by USIP and the Stimson Center traveled to Syria and Saudi Arabia to interview government officials-including President Assad of Syria and Prince Turki al-Faysal of Saudi Arabia-and a range of others about their views of Iraq. Syria and Saudi Arabia do not look at Iraq in isolation, nor do they assign it top priority among their foreign policy concerns. For them, Iraq is merely one element in a comprehensive view encompassing other regional players (including the U.S. and Iran) and other regional crises, particularly the Arab-Israeli conflict. The top concern for both Riyadh and Damascus remains blowback from Iraq: the ascendance of ethnic and sectarian identity and the spread of Islamic militancy. The need to contain this threat is the dominant force that shapes their relations with Iraq. Both Syria and Saudi Arabia have a vital interest in ensuring that Iraq’s emerging political order is inclusive of Sunni Arab Iraqis, who have not yet been fully incorporated into Iraqi institutions.  CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT »

 America and the Emerging Iraqi Reality: New Goals, No Illusions

It is time for a new policy in Iraq, to recalibrate America’s equities and engagement there. The current administration is tied to its policy, knowing that the president’s historic legacy will be based on the outcome in Iraq, and hoping that current positive trends can be turned into more permanent conditions. But the American people and their political leaders need to be thinking more boldly about a new horizon: Where do we want U.S.-Iraq relations to be in five years? Can the United States and Iraq enjoy a friendly relationship without such a deep commitment of American forces and resources? Where does Iraq fit in America’s strategic interests and agenda? In this new report published by The Century Foundation, Ellen Laipson, CEO of the Henry L. Stimson Center and director of the Southwest Asia/Gulf project, examines these issues. CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT »


Iraq and America: Choices and Consequences

America’s engagement in Iraq will have profound consequences for US interests and American national security for the foreseeable future. The US-led invasion that deposed the regime of Saddam Hussein, the shifting priorities of the US occupation in attempting to restore security and establish a more representative government, and the reluctance of Iraq’s neighbors and so much of the international community to become full partners in the endeavor will have lasting implications for Iraq, the region, international politics in general and US power and influence in particular. This volume of essays examines some of the consequences of US engagement in Iraq and considers choices for American policymakers that might contribute to more favorable outcomes in Iraq and beyond.  LEARN MORE ABOUT THE BOOK »


The Stimson regularly hosts events and roundtables with Iraqi visitors and non-Iraqi analysts and diplomats with experience or expertise on Iraq. They include Mokhtar Lamani, Arab League Ambassador in Baghdad; Fareed Yassine, advisor to the Iraqi Vice President; and Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi security analyst. For more, please visit our events page.


October 25, 2009: Iraq’s New Realities

By: Ellen Laipson and Mokhtar Lamani

Iraq is no longer on the front pages, as the war in Afghanistan becomes the preoccupying concern of governments in Ottawa and Washington.  But it is still a story filled with drama and violence, of a society in a difficult transition from authoritarianism to a more representative form of government.



June 2009: Gulf-US Relations in 2008: A Year of Transition

By: Emile El-Hokayem and Elena McGovern
The year 2008 turned out to be one of relative stability in the Gulf. During its last year in power, the Bush administration focused on stabilizing Iraq, re-calibrating its policy towards Iran and strengthening ties with the countries of the GCC.  As the year drew to a close and Barack Obama won the presidential race, the nature of US-Gulf relations seemed set for more change.  READ MORE » 


May 11, 2009:  How its Arab neighbours can help to build the new Iraq

By: Ellen Laipson

The Obama administration has made Iraq’s reintegration into the region one of the cornerstones of its Iraq policy. It is naturally linked to US hopes for stability in Iraq – a country that has normal trade and political relations with its neighbours, and a friendly foreign policy in which no single external power dominates the country or influences its people.  READ MORE »


March 31, 2009: The Iraqi Refugee Crisis in Regional Context: Testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia

The plight of the more than a million Iraqi refugees has significant consequences for the Middle East region, as well as for the future stability and identity of the Iraqi state. How the refugees are treated is also seen as a test of US leadership, and a measure of US ability to manage the consequences of the decision to oust Saddam Hussein. READ MORE »


July 18, 2008: Negotiating Security Arrangements with Iraq: Easier Said than Done

The Bush Administration is unable to put in place long-term security arrangements in Iraq this year. It now seeks a statement of principles and a short term agreement about the US military presence in Iraq. Prime Minister Maliki was unable to maneuver between the popular demand for an end to occupation, and the reality of continued reliance on US security forces. READ MORE »


February 2008:  Don’t Declare Victory

By Ellen Laipson

The 2008 definition of “winning” in Iraq is more about security narrowly construed than political transformation or democracy. We clearly are able to achieve short- to medium-term improvements in the security conditions in the country, but we should have no illusions that we can soon “win” a bigger game, that we will transform Iraq into a stable and democratic country and a model for change in the region, or that by winning in Iraq we will defeat al-Qaeda. READ MORE »

July 26, 2007: Iraq’s Hot Summer… And Ours

By Ellen Laipson

Iraqis and Americans have some things in common – both are deeply disappointed in the dismal results of the US intervention to reinvent the Iraqi state. Americans are impatient at Iraqi failure to meet its benchmarks on oil, reconciliation, and other metrics of governance. But benchmarks alone won’t determine when and how the US leaves Iraq. We’re there for some time to come.  READ MORE »

May 28, 2007:  Iraq After the Sharm el-Sheikh Meeting

By Emile El-Hokayem and Elena McGovern

Earlier this month, more than sixty nations gathered in Sharm el-Sheikh in a show of support to Iraq’s battered institutions. This ministerial-level meeting, chaired by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon,  was meant to increase international understanding of Iraq’s various needs and affirm the legitimacy of Iraq’s new institutions by adopting the International Compact with Iraq, a plan jointly developed by Iraq and international organizations, that maps a road to the political and economic recovery of Iraq. Sadly, however, little substantive progress was achieved.  READ MORE »

May 22, 2007:  Iraq: Why Reconciliation is So Hard

By Ellen Laipson

As American politicians debate deadlines and benchmarks for Iraqi performance, it is clear that Iraqi society and its new political class are not yet in a conciliatory mood.  The various historic grievances now compete with new rivalries over land and power, creating new tensions that undermine the spirit of reconciliation.   In addition, the execution of Saddam Hussein has removed any prospect for a Baathi apology, which could help trigger the process of healing and forgiveness.  The international community will have to accept that true reconciliation is a long way off. READ MORE »

January 24, 2007: Iraq: Beyond Sectarianism
By Ellen Laipson

The rise of sectarianism – allegiance to one’s religious sect over national identity – is causing the dissolution of Iraq and its society, perhaps more than any other factor. Increasing numbers of Iraqis now think of themselves first as Sunni, or Shia, or Kurd, and no longer want to live peacefully with Iraqis outside their group. But a dramatic parliamentary debate on January 25 suggests that Iraqi politicians are trying to get beyond sectarian passions. One cried “Why can’t we be nationalists?” READ MORE »

December 29, 2006: Practical steps for a new Iraq policy

By Ellen Laipson and Maureen S. Steinbruner

The daily toll of events in Iraq and the intensity of media coverage from Baghdad make it hard to allow ideas on the Iraq crisis to be considered with the sober and somber deliberation they deserve. The pressure to squeeze new policy options into political frames that are instantly interpreted as for or against the Bush administration. READ MORE »


December 5, 2006: Ellen Laipson examines the US predicament in Iraq in Les Echos (in French).

By  Ellen Laipson

Il est temps de renoncer à nos espoirs de voir la commission Baker-Hamilton sortir une baguette magique qui résoudrait la crise irakienne. Elle a tout d’abord dû régler le différend entre républicains et démocrates en proposant un compromis sur au moins une question, le calendrier du retrait des troupes américaines. Par ailleurs, le gouvernement Bush s’est empressé de mettre en oeuvre ses propres mesures politiques, peut-être pour éviter certaines idées de la commission (l’instauration d’un dialogue avec l’Iran et la Syrie par exemple) ou parce que les nouvelles conditions sur le terrain l’ont contraint à envisager une nouvelle approche.  READ MORE »


March 28, 2006: Reflections on Iraq’s Predicament

By Emile El-Hokayem

Iraq is in a very precarious condition. With a stalled political process, major disagreements over the Constitution, profound sectarian tensions and a pervasive sense of insecurity, the prospects for a strong, modern Iraq are at best dim. READ MORE »

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