The country’s leaders need to de-escalate the crisis and address the concerns of those who are aggrieved. One new grievance in particular, the delay in provincial elections in Anbar and Ninewah Provinces, must be addressed rapidly. Most of Iraq voted for provincial leaders on April 20th, but security issues delayed the vote in Anbar and Ninewah until May 18, and then until July 4 — exacerbating the sense of sectarian marginalization. It is important that those elections go forward as scheduled.
The protests have not just been about the electoral delay. Protesters also demand significant reforms to Iraqi detention policies and the manner in which de-Baathification laws are implemented. We note that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has offered concessions on the latter issue, and we look forward to support from other political parties with Shiite constituencies. Above all, it is imperative for the Iraqi people and their leaders to recall the commitment they made in 2007 to reject sectarian violence and to press forward to build a better Iraq for all Iraqis.
It is also incumbent on the friends of Iraq to support this effort. Progress in Iraq came when coalition elements encouraged Sunni communities to work with a government in which they still lacked trust. It is vital that the spirit that animated the progress then be reinvigorated now. It has thus been good to read of the activities in recent days of the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad and the U.N. mission there, calling for calm, engaging with all parties and reminding them of what they could lose: the new Iraq that they and we paid so much to create.
Though the United States has withdrawn its troops from Iraq, it retains significant leverage there. Iraqi forces were equipped and trained by Americans, and the country’s leaders need and expect our help. Secretary of State John F. Kerry showed great initiative in making Iraq part of his first visit abroad; he should return to signal Iraq’s long-term importance to the United States and to regional stability, and he should engage all of Iraq’s leaders. Another step would be convening a secretarial-level meeting of the joint commission established under the Strategic Framework Agreement.
To be clear: For Iraqis to pull back from the brink, the United States must lead a sustained, high-level diplomatic effort. We have done so successfully in the past, beginning in 2007; we must do so again. The stakes for Iraq and the region are far too high for anything less.