Regional Spillover Effects of the Iraq War

  • December 01, 2008
  • Dr W Andrew Terrill

The Iraq war has been one of the dominant factors influencing U.S. strategic thinking in the Middle East and globally since 2003. Yet the problems of this highly dynamic and fluid war have sometimes forced U.S. policymakers to address near-term issues that cannot be safely postponed at the expense of long-term strategic thought. Such a technique, while understandable, cannot continue indefinitely as an approach to policy. Long-term planning remains vital for advancing regionwide U.S. and Iraqi interests following a U.S. drawdown from Iraq. Such planning must include dealing with current and potential “spillover” from the Iraq war.

Regional spillover problems associated with the Iraq war need to be considered and addressed even in the event of strong future success in building the new Iraq. In less optimistic scenarios, these issues will become even more important. Spillover issues addressed herein include: (1) the flow of refugees and displaced persons from Iraq, (2) cross-border terrorism, (3) the potential intensification of separatism and sectarian discord among Iraq’s neighbors, and (4) transnational crime. All of these problems will be exceptionally important in the Middle East in the coming years and perhaps decades, and trends involving these issues will need to be closely monitored. The author presents ideas, concerns, and strategies that can help to fill this gap in the literature and enrich the debate on the actual and potential spillover effects of the Iraq war that will face U.S. policymakers, possibly for decades. Of these problems, he clearly is especially concerned with the spread of sectarian divisions which, if not properly managed, can have devastating regional consequences. This monograph forms an important baseline useful for considering future trends in each of the areas that the author has identified.