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
PodcastStories from the Backchannel: Season Two Trailer
By Ilan Goldenberg, Richard Fontaine, Susanna V. Blume, Kayla M. Williams, Price B. Floyd, Kurt Campbell & Kara Frederick
CommentarySending Troops Back to the Middle East Won’t Stop Iran
The Trump administration’s decision to kill Qassam Soleimani is the latest in an escalatory “maximum pressure” Iran strategy that is shifting American foreign policy attention...
By Chris Dougherty & Kaleigh Thomas
CommentaryCongress has to figure out whether Trump's four embassy claim is real
The targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, carried with it significant potential to serve as a catalyst for a br...
By Carrie Cordero
CommentaryWhy did the Pentagon ever give Trump the option of killing Soleimani?
Sending the U.S. military to use force is among the most consequential decisions presidents can make. Matters may get out of control even with the most careful and deliberate ...
By Alice Hunt Friend, Mara Karlin & Loren DeJonge Schulman