Iraqis vote in an election on March 7 seen as a test
of Iraq's young and tenuous democracy, its ability
to provide security, and the prospects for
reconciliation between warring factions after years
The next government faces a raft of thorny issues
that have at times paralysed the previous
administration, delayed vital legislation and raised
tensions even as the sectarian bloodshed triggered
by the 2003 U.S. invasion subsides.
Following are the main issues facing Iraq's next
Iraq's Arab majority and Kurdish minority have
long-running, bitter disputes over land, oil and
constitutional rights that have threatened to spill
over into violence and which U.S. officials fear
could spark Iraq's next major conflict.
The next government will have to find a solution for
the disputed oil-producing city of Kirkuk, which
Kurds consider their ancestral homeland and want to
wrap into their largely autonomous Kurdistan region
in northern Iraq.
The city's Arabs and ethnic Turkmen are alarmed at
the prospect of being ruled by Kurds,www.ekurd.netwho
have many friends in western capitals due to years
of successful lobbying and growing business
relations, including in oil.
An Iraq-wide census, the first in 23 years, is
planned for October, which will add ammunition to
either Kurdish or Arab arguments for control of
Other disputed areas border the violent city of
Mosul, where deadlock between local Kurd and Arab
politicians has resulted in a security vacuum that
has been exploited by al Qaeda, which is still
effective there despite crackdowns elsewhere in
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is also at
loggerheads with Baghdad over the legality of
contracts the KRG signed independently with foreign
oil firms, a dispute that resulted in the halting of
oil exports from Kurdistan last year.
There has been a thaw with regard to the issue, with
the Oil Ministry saying it expects exports to resume
soon. Even so, the question of who pays the firms
developing Kurdish oilfields is likely to be
inherited by the next government.
As well as disputes with Iraq's Kurds over oil, the
next government's stewardship of multibillion-dollar
oil contracts agreed with foreign firms will be
The way Iraq handles its commitment to the deals
will be a strong signal for foreign investors
nervous about a lack of legal frameworks and clear
recourse for arbitration.
The sooner Iraq, which depends on oil for almost all
its revenue, is able to exploit its vast reserves,
the quicker it can rebuild infrastructure shattered
by war and sanctions.
A set of hydrocarbon laws to govern Iraq's oil
wealth and the legal status of foreign oil companies
has been delayed due to Kurd-Arab disputes on
revenue-sharing and on regional versus central
Sectarian tensions are rising ahead of the election
amid suspicions among Iraq's once dominant Sunnis
that the Shi'ite majority is trying to deprive them
of their fair share of power.
The next government will have to heal the wounds of
sectarian warfare that killed tens of thousands
after the U.S. invasion, and construct a lasting
peace between the two sides.
It may also have to find ways to deter Arab states
from interfering on behalf of Sunnis and Iran from
meddling in favour of Shi'ites if it wants to stop
Iraq from becoming a long-term battlefield between
the two Muslim sects.
Improving basic services will be key to reversing
growing Iraqi scepticism about democracy after
Saddam Hussein's fall.
Seven years after his overthrow, the national grid
supplies only a few hours of power a day. Rubbish
fills cities, many roads are almost unusable and
health care is basic.
Unemployment is rife and insurgents and militia have
found it easy to recruit from among Iraq's poor and
Iraq's security forces, unable to prevent major
bombings that rocked Baghdad in recent months or to
calm the still violent northern province of Nineveh,
will be under greater pressure as the U.S. military
speeds up its troop reductions after the election,
before a full withdrawal by 2012.
Coordination must be improved between arms of the
security forces riven by political, sectarian and
ethnic fractures. Corrupt and incompetent security
officials must be weeded out.
Iraq also needs to beef up its military hardware,
training programmes and intelligence-gathering
capability. A lack of effective intelligence work is
partly blamed for a series of high-profile Baghdad
Iraq has acute water shortages, which are likely to
worsen as its 30 million-strong population grows and
more agricultural land returns to cultivation after
being abandoned during war.
Its two main rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris,
have been dammed by Iraq's neighbours, through which
they flow, reducing volumes reaching parched Iraqi
plains. Talks with Turkey have yielded some
increased flow, but not enough.
The next government may have to negotiate for more,
or focus on more efficient use of the little water
Politicians have long discussed amending the
constitution drawn up after the U.S. invasion. At
stake are issues relating to the separation of
religious and state laws, and the power balance
between the central government and the provinces.
Iraq has yet to define its borders with Iran and
Kuwait. In December, a small number of Iranian
troops entered what Iraq considers its territory to
plant an Iranian flag at an inactive oil well. The
incursion raised tensions and rattled oil markets.
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