Iraqi Political Chaos Is a Boon for Iran

The Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, one of Iraq’s most influential political figures, recently instructed his party’s 75 parliamentarians to resign after six months of political gridlock during which he was unable to form a government. Most likely, writes Bobby Ghosh, the Sadrists will take the streets, while the Islamic Republic will expand its influence in Baghdad:

Protest, often violent, is Sadr’s stock in trade. Hailing from a family of Shiite clerics who paid for their opposition to Saddam Hussein with their lives, he made his own name in 2003 by raising a militia, known as the Mahdi Army, against the U.S.-led coalition that toppled the dictator. Sadr’s fighters were trounced, but his anti-American rhetoric never waned. More recently, he has cast himself as a nationalist, opposed to the malign influence of Shiite-majority Iran in Iraqi affairs.

The political churn in Baghdad will, at least in the short run, yield butter for Tehran. By Iraqi law, the parliamentary seats abandoned by Sadr have gone to the candidates who polled the second-largest number of votes. In most cases, those were candidates from Iran-backed parties. That bloc, known as the Coordination Framework, is now in the strongest position to form a coalition government.

This would mean the return to the premiership of Nouri al-Maliki, whose two previous terms in the job, from 2006-14 were characterized by an open license for Iran to deepen its influence in Iraqi affairs, especially in the country’s security forces. Tehran also backed a parallel network of Shiite militias, which it has used to attack U.S. military forces in Iraq and launch missile and drone strikes into Saudi Arabia.

Read more at Bloomberg

More about: Iran, Iraq, Shiites

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood