By Anthony H. Cordesman

May 31, 2018

The Iraqi election in May 2018 has highlighted the security challenges the United States now faces in Iraq and the Middle East. One key concern is the level of future U.S. confrontation with Iran. The United States faced grave uncertainties regarding Iran’s influence in Iraq even when it seemed that Iraq’s existing Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, was likely to win the election. The election’s uncertain results, and U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement, now virtually ensure that a far more intense struggle for influence will take place in Iraq and the rest of the region. Iran’s role in Iraq and the region, however, is only one of the issues that Iraq election has highlighted. Iraq’s future security structure raises equally serious questions. The US faces major challenges in ensuring that Iraqi forces can fully defeat the remnants of ISIS, secure Iraq’s border with Syria, and become an effective mix of internal security forces and military forces that can defend the country. At the same time, serious questions arise as to whether Iraq’s future mix of military, paramilitary, and security forces can be unified and whether they will focus on defending national unity, rather than become factionalized or linked to Iran.

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