The issue of Iran and its nuclear program has emerged as a top priority for the Obama Administration. The United States also sees a threat to U.S. interests posed by Iran's support for militant groups in the Middle East and in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tensions have been particularly elevated since Iran's late-December 2011 threat to try to choke off much of the world's oil supplies -a reaction to the imposition of significant sanctions against Iran's vital exports of oil. The heightened tensions follow three years in which the Obama Administration has assembled a broad international coalition to pressure Iran through economic sanctions while also offering sustained engagement with Iran if it verifiably assures the international community that its nuclear program is peaceful. The Administration uses indicators such as Iran's economic deterioration and its willingness to engage in new talks as evidence that policy is starting to work and should be given more time before any consideration of U.S. or other country military options. The Administration also perceives that the legitimacy and popularity of Iran's regime is in decline, although not to the point where the regime's grip on power is threatened. Over the past two years, the United States has increased public criticism of Iran's human rights record, an effort broadly supported in the international community.
This report discusses the situation immediately following the completion of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq on December 18, 2011, when relations among major political factions worsened substantially, threatening Iraq's stability and the legacy of the U.S. intervention in Iraq. It includes an overview of historical and current political, military, and governance issues as well as an analysis of Iraq in relation to the other nations in the region.