Conflict Trends Update

LEBANON

Parliament Monday nominated Najib al-Miqati to head a new government. The country has had only a caretaker cabinet since August 2020, when Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned with his ministers following the catastrophic explosion at Beirut’s port. Miqati is a billionaire businessman who has been premier twice before. He must now assemble a cabinet and win approval from President Michel Aoun, a task at which the previous two prime ministerial nominees failed, before he can take office. Meanwhile, Lebanon’s dire socio-economic straits continued to worsen. The national currency has plummeted in value, plunging many citizens into penury. Many struggle to buy food and other staples. Electricity is also in very short supply amid the summertime heat. France, which reportedly backed Miqati’s nomination and is pushing for swift government formation, has announced an international aid conference for 4 August, the anniversary of the port blast. Crisis Group expert Heiko Wimmen says many Lebanese disdain Miqati as representing the same political class whose corruption and mismanagement have helped bring the country to this perilous juncture. Whether he becomes prime minister or not, Lebanon is at growing risk of serious social unrest as its economic problems fester.

U.S.-IRAQ

At a White House meeting Tuesday with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, President Joe Biden said U.S. troops will conclude their combat mission in Iraq by the close of 2021. Some 2,500 U.S. military personnel are based in Iraq at present, engaged mostly in training of Iraqi units as well as assistance in tracking down the remaining Islamic State (ISIS) cells in the country. For years, Iraqi militias, some linked to Iran, have carried out periodic attacks on facilities housing U.S. soldiers with the declared aim of expelling them from the country. The U.S. sometimes retaliates with missile strikes on the militias’ garrisons. Crisis Group expert Michael Hanna says Biden’s statement is largely symbolic, since U.S. troops have not been involved in major fighting in Iraq for some time. It does, however, raise key questions, including whether Iraqi militias will persist in attacking U.S. forces, whether escalatory cycles will also keep happening, whether the troops’ mission is sustainable if they are consumed with force protection and whether pressure to terminate the deployment will build in Washington.

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