US is pulling out but problems remain for Iraq

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US is pulling out but problems remain for Iraq

US is pulling out but problems remain for Iraq

Tuesday, December 13, 2011
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Saddam may have been ousted more than 8 years ago but Iraq's problems are getting worse.

BAGHDAD: As US troops nearly complete their withdrawal from Iraq, more than eight years after the invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, they leave behind a country still facing a litany of challenges.

 

Here is an overview of some of the key problems:

 

Disputed territories:

Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region in the north wants a swathe of territory stretching from the border with Iran to the Syrian frontier to be incorporated into its three-province area.

 

Baghdad also claims the land, which includes portions of four provinces, and centres around the oil-rich, multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk.

 

Insurgents and Al-Qaeda

The Sunni insurgency has dramatically declined since violence peaked in 2006 and 2007, thanks to an alliance between Sunni tribesmen and the US military against Al-Qaeda since late 2006.

 

Attacks, kidnappings and executions remain common, however, and the Islamic State of Iraq, Al-Qaeda's front group, still carries out major attacks against the security forces, Shiites and Christians.

 

Tensions between religious communities

Many Iraqis accuse the US of bringing sectarianism to politics, a dimension they say was largely absent under Saddam. The Shiite-led government has accused Sunni Arabs, who dominated Saddam's regime, of plotting to overthrow it.

 

Syria crisis

Iraq shares a long border with Syria, where an offshoot of Saddam's Baath Party rules. The fall of Syria's minority Shiite Alawite regime could push refugees across the frontier, threatening to raise tensions between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites.

 

Iranian influence

Iran is widely believed to exert major influence on the government, and has been accused by Washington of training and equipping Shiite militias in the south of Iraq, charges Tehran denies.

 

Institutional corruption and fragility

Iraq lacks an interior minister, and no permanent defence minister has been named since March 2010 elections because of political disputes.

 

Institutions are weak and rife with graft, with Iraq rated the eighth-most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International.

 

Some provinces want more autonomy, along the lines of the Kurdistan region.

 

The security forces, while largely able to maintain internal security, are unable to defend borders, air space or maritime territory, and will not be fully capable until 2020, according to Iraq's top military officer.

 

Energy

Though oil production and exports, which account for the vast majority of government income, are rising, no law has yet been approved to regulate the industry and the dispersal of revenues between the central government and its provinces.

 

Social problems

Nearly a quarter of Iraq's population lives in poverty. The status of women in society has deteriorated markedly since 2003. Iraq also has about 1.75 million refugees and internally displaced persons.

 

Kurdish separatists

The Kurdistan Workers' Party and Party of Free Life of Kurdistan, which have fought against the Turkish and Iranian governments respectively for decades, maintain rear bases in north Iraq. Ankara and Tehran regularly target those bases in air raids and artillery bombardments.

 

Tensions with Kuwait

Relations with neighbouring Kuwait have been strained since Saddam's 1990 invasion of the oil-rich emirate, with Iraq frequently complaining about ongoing reparations and the still-incomplete demarcation of the border.

 

Baghdad also accuses Kuwait of blocking its maritime access, and thereby threatening its oil exports, by constructing a massive port.