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
Commentary9/11 swallowed U.S. foreign policy. Don’t let the coronavirus do the same thing.
For two decades, American foreign policy has been shaped by the 9/11 attacks. The catastrophic wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our failure to see the full threat posed by Russia...
By Ilan Goldenberg
CommentaryBig Ideas for NATO’s New Mission in Iraq
Following U.S. President Donald Trump’s calls for America’s allies to “get more involved in the Middle East,” NATO defense ministers last month agreed to “enhance” the Atlanti...
By David H. Petraeus & Vance Serchuk
CommentaryThe Iranian Missile Strike Did Far More Damage Than Trump Admits
Over 100 American soldiers have been treated for traumatic brain injuries following Iran’s missile strike on Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq. The strike came in retaliation f...
By Loren DeJonge Schulman & Paul Scharre
PodcastGrappling With the Costs of Combat
Kayla Williams joins Ilan Goldenberg to discuss her time serving as an Arabic linguist in the U.S. Army and the human costs of armed conflict....
By Ilan Goldenberg & Kayla M. Williams