During the past few days, the United States strategy for addressing the escalating violence in Iraq has emphasized diplomacy to achieve political reconciliation. The Obama administration and many members of Congress are blaming Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for having fanned Iraq’s sectarian flames. Maliki has indeed systematically concentrated power in his own hands, and has excluded Sunnis, Kurds, and even other Shiite groups wherever and wherever possible. It’s no surprise, then, that many Sunnis have rightly concluded that the current political system will never benefit them, and that some of them are taking up arms to help a Sunni extremist group overthrow that political system.
Oil states are almost always autocracies, and it’s easy to understand why. They don’t depend on taxing their citizens in order to generate revenue, the way that most states do. Instead, they generate tremendous revenues simply by selling oil. Controlling the state means controlling the oil, which means controlling oil revenues, which translates directly into political power. And that means that whoever controls the state will do whatever they can to maintain that control – by providing lavish benefits to their supporters while seeking to quash potential opposition before it arises.
More from CNAS
CommentaryTwo Cheers for Esper’s Plan to Reassert Civilian Control of the Pentagon
The longest-ever gap in civilian leadership atop the Department of Defense came to an end on July 23, when Mark Esper was sworn in as secretary of defense. His presence in the...
By Loren DeJonge Schulman, Alice Hunt Friend & Mara Karlin
VideoCARE: Humanitarian Aid Cuts & National Security
A number of prominent figures are speaking out in opposition of the proposed cutbacks to the US foreign aid budget. CNAS CEO Michele Flournoy, along with many other former sen...
By Michèle Flournoy
How to increase the pressure on the Syrian government
Five years into Syria’s bloody civil war, it is clear that there is no appetite in Washington or European capitals for a more muscular military intervention to stop the Assad ...
By Peter Harrell
Al Qaeda Is Gaining Strength in Syria
The struggle for Aleppo poses an awful threat for the United States. The ongoing battle for what was once Syria’s second-largest city has united two of the most prominent oppo...
By Nicholas Heras