Since 2014, Iraq’s stability has been compromised by challenges of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) insurgency, political upheaval, and daunting economic and humanitarian crises. Iraq’s trajectory and the development of these crises will have implications for global energy security, stability of the Middle East region, and security of the NATO nations. This is due to Iraq’s position as the second largest oil producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) after Saudi Arabia, holding the world’s fourth largest proven oil reserves, and as a renewed source of terrorist threats. According to Anthony Cordesman, “Iraq as a major oil exporter and critical potential balance to Iran is far more important than Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and Somalia” (Center for Strategic & International Studies, 2017).
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In an effort to shed more light on Iraq’s possible future trajectory, this paper explores non-military perspectives on recent developments, challenges, and prospects in Iraq across different areas, from security to political and socio-economic domains. It then discusses the impact of these developments on NATO nations’ strategic interests in Iraq and in the broader Middle East, concluding with a compilation of expert recommendations.
Research demonstrates that while Iraq faces serious challenges, there are reasons for cautious optimism about Iraqi stability if certain conditions are met. Although many of the factors that will determine whether Iraq will remain on a stable enough path are unpredictable and unfolding, political reconciliation and sustained international support will be critical determinants of stability in Iraq. Finally, while ISIS in Iraq remains a serious danger, it is not an existential threat to NATO nations. In fact, many of the NATO member’s strategic core interests in the region, including securing the uninterrupted free flow of oil and gas to world markets, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, containing terrorism, and controlling movement of refugees remain in relatively good shape.
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