The 2003 US invasion of Iraq ushered in a new era in the country’s modern history, with many accomplishments and setbacks. The invasion ended a fifty-year period of autocracy that regressed from a benevolent dictatorship to absolute tyranny. Though there have been critiques, protests, and anger towards the government over the past fifteen years, Iraqis have shown a desire to reform their political system and have shown no tendencies toward destroying the political system or regressing to the tyrannical past. Given all the blood and treasure invested in Iraq as well as its strategic importance, the United States should take note of the progress Iraq has made and work with Iraqis to double down on their results thus far to ensure the positive trajectory only continues. 

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Jared Kushner, senior adviser to the US President Donald Trump, is on his way to six countries in the Gulf states to discuss and present part of his long awaited Israel-Palestine peace process plan in private meetings with foreign diplomats. He is expected to visit Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Turkey over the next few days. While the plan is still held tightly secret, experts are speculating on the selection of countries Kushner is to visit and what that implies for the plan. Below are Atlantic Council’s Middle East experts analysis on the implications of this visit and what it means for the later unveiling in April this year.

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Spending the last two weeks of 2018 in Iraq offered a window into Iraqi politics, the economy, and how Iraqis are coping on a variety of issues. My trip began with a conference, and despite the socially and politically contentious issues under discussion—citizenship, identity, inclusive governance, human development, education, among others—and the diverse ethno-sectarian background of the participants, there was a consensus on the most fundamental issue: that Iraqis must build their own nation together and focus on the future, rather than dwell on the injurious past.

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On December 10, 2017, former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in the battle to liberate Iraqi territories from the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The Iraqi Army, Special Forces, and Federal Police, supported by the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMFs) and the Peshmerga, fought for every inch of territory that was occupied by the terrorist group. Iraq was not alone in this fight. An international coalition, led by the United States, offered significant military help in the form of air support, logistics, and invaluable advisory assistance on the ground.

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Some commentators recently celebrated the Iraqi election as a sign that democracy is taking root in Iraq’s soil. This optimistic view is justified given the bleak situation of democratic transformation in the region. Authoritarianism in the Middle East persists as the common model of governing, even in countries that witnessed popular uprisings and demands for regime change just a few years ago.

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Iraq’s 2018 parliamentary elections, simultaneously embodying continuity and change, will be held in a particularly divisive atmosphere. The elections are taking place in the shadow of the devastation left behind by the conflict with ISIS and serious splits within the governing Shia party. As a result, voting on May 12 will be a litmus test for the mood of the country in the wake of a tumultuous few years.

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Following the 2005 election of Iraq’s National Assembly, the winning Shia Islamist coalition selected Ibrahim al-Jaafari, then a senior leader in the Dawa party, for the position of Prime Minister in the transitional government. Dawa is the oldest Shia Islamist party, but not the largest. Competing groups within the Shia alliance selected a member in the party for the position to sustain minimal unity, which was threatened by the fierce competition between the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and the Sadrist movement.

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Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi recently announced his new war against corruption. In using the term “war,” he intended to convey the difficulty of implementing a productive policy to fight corruption. Abadi hopes to build on his successes in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the crisis with Kurdistan by turning his attention to a popular and persistent demand: fighting corruption. International financial institutions and nonprofit organizations—including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF)- identify rampant corruption as a main impediment to development in Iraq, and Transparency International consistently rank Iraq among the most corrupt countries.

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One of the main disputes behind tensions between the Iraqi federal government and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) includes disagreement over budget allocation. This month, the Iraqi government approved the proposed budget for 2018 and sent it to the parliament for debate in the coming weeks. The draft budget, strongly criticized by the KRG, is the latest episode in the contention between Baghdad’s vision of a strong center and KRG’s preference of strong regions. It also highlights a fundamental problem: the actual meaning of Iraqi federalism, which still lacks a clear institutional framework.

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Not many heads of governments in the Middle East can move swiftly between Riyadh, Cairo, Amman, Ankara, and Tehran, and receive a warm welcome in all those capitals. Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, followed this itinerary in the last few days, trying to create the image of a competent leader who victoriously took Iraq out of an existential fight with the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) and saved its unity from what is perceived in Baghdad as “Kurdish secessionism”. Iraqi senior officials always advocated the idea that a strong Iraq could be a bridge in this highly divided and polarized region, a message Abadi emphasized when he demanded the United States and Iran spare his country the ramifications of their conflict.

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