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Protesters chant in support of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as they carry national flags during a demonstration in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, Iraq, Aug. 21, 2015 (AP photo by Karim Kadim).

Iraq’s Future Is About Much More Than the Islamic State

Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015

For months, the critical issue for Iraq has been its capacity to win back territory in its western provinces controlled by the so-called Islamic State (IS). The focus abroad has been on building an international coalition to support Iraqi forces; enabling various Kurdish militias to do their part in the war against IS; and strengthening Iraqi resolve, particularly among Sunnis, to see the IS threat in all its dimensions and reinvigorate Iraq’s national capacity and purpose. But in Baghdad, other dynamics are in play. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi followed through on pledges to take on corruption and governance shortcomings. Abadi is doing the right thing, while being honest and open that the losers in his new drive to make Iraq’s political class more accountable will fight back. It’s not too late to support the push and pull of democratization in Iraq, but the centrifugal forces—from IS, disaffected Sunnis and increasingly confident Kurds—are surely formidable.

In late July, when Iraqi thermometers hit 50 degrees Celsius, demonstrations broke out in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq to protest power shortages and alleged corruption and mismanagement at the Ministry of Electricity. Protesters represented important civil society figures and won the moral and political support of a wider swath of Iraqi elites, rattling the confidence of Abadi’s government. The demonstrations also seemed to reveal some complex intra-Shiite rivalries, further complicating Abadi’s ability to control the situation. ...

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