And, while Iran and Iraq will inevitably be more intertwined than we, and many of its neighbors, would like, one thing we learned over more than eight years in Iraq is that the vast majority of its leaders, including the Prime Minister, are first and foremost Iraqi nationalists and resistant to outside influence from anywhere – starting with Iran.
Baghdad repeatedly has acted contrary to Iran’s interests, including with its support for the Arab League and UN General Assembly Resolution on Syria; its pressure on Iranian-backed Shi’a militants to dramatically reduce attacks; and the patience it has thus far shown, despite repeated urging from Tehran, during efforts to relocate the MEK residents of Camp Ashraf.
All of this progress is real. But so too is the peril.
Iraqis face profound challenges about fundamental issues. We see them with clear eyes.
Finding ways to share power and holding all sides to the agreements they make; stamping out the violent extremists who continue to launch outrageous attacks on innocent Iraqi civilians and security forces, and foreign diplomats simply doing their jobs; resolving long-standing disputes about the country’s internal boundaries; ensuring the necessary legal and financial frameworks are in place to allow the energy sector to further flourish.
The level of violence, while diminished, remains unacceptable to the Iraqis. Enhancing, and even maintaining, Iraq’s commitment to democratic principles will require hard work and constant vigilance. Its regional relationships remain tenuous and fraught with mistrust. And the specter of Iran still looms large over Iraqi affairs.
These and other problems will not be solved overnight.
But a little perspective is in order.