Those residual forces are far less important to America’s long-term relationship with Iraq than the nature of the emerging civilian and political relationship. But even as that relationship is being forged, Congress has slashed $500 million from the budgetary request for the continuing civilian mission in Iraq – which will provide the foundation for our long-term strategic relationship – leaving a shortfall of more than $1 billion.
This presents serious challenges toward realizing the United States’ historic opportunity to establish an enduring and mutually beneficial relationship with a pivotal state in the Middle East. The relationship is two-sided and Iraq needs to play its own role. Building a long-term partnership with Iraq requires that they have an effective, inclusive, and legitimate government. But the agreement on a new Iraqi government leaves many urgent issues unresolved.
Key elements of power-sharing rely upon promises that may not be redeemed. The newly conceived National Council for Strategic Policies is meant to provide strategic oversight and a check on the powers of the prime minister’s office, but it has no constitutional status. Defining the balance of power at the highest levels will be challenging for a new parliament, and the inevitable political struggles will offer endless opportunities for new crises.
Until those problems are solved, the cold truth is that Mr. Maliki has now become the most powerful executive in the history of post-Saddam Iraq, with few institutional checks and balances.
Many other vital issues have also been left in limbo during the long months of political paralysis following the March elections. The status of Kirkuk and other disputed territories remains unresolved, as does crucial legislation governing oil and gas fields. The effective incorporation of Sunni groups into the political process remains an open question, as does the future of the millions of refugees and internally displaced persons and their lost property.