Iraq’s Politics, Iraq’s Problem

DENVER – The narrative of contemporary Iraq is becoming etched in stone: United States troops are leaving, and the country is falling apart. Iraq, we are told, is once again on the brink of dictatorship, this time under the Shia politician Nuri al-Maliki, who has been prime minister since 2006.

The notion that Iraq’s ongoing political problems were caused by America’s departure, or that they could be improved by its return, is something that only a solipsistic American could believe. In fact, not everything that happens in Iraq reflects the presence – or absence – of US troops.

Iraq’s political problems are of Iraq’s making, and need to be resolved by Iraqis. Outside mediation can help. But no one should be under the illusion that foreign troops, engaged for eight years as a post-invasion occupying force, are ideal for this task.

“Urban bias” is a term often used to explain the phenomenon by which city dwellers receive a disproportionate share of a society’s resources and benefits. But it can refer to something else: an outsider’s understanding of a country that is based on disproportionate interaction with the urban population at the expense of those who live in harder-to-reach rural areas.