Iraq today is not the country it was four years ago. Senior officials in the incoming Biden administration, many of whom — like the president — are familiar with the country from their days in the Obama administration, will find a much-changed country. Many of the key Iraqi faces are the same, but the country itself has endured a sustained period of domestic turmoil that has altered the dynamics of power, deepened domestic fissures, and eroded the sovereignty of the state. Popular protests have rocked the political system and called into question the legitimacy of the political elite; armed groups, many of which came to the fore in the fight against the Islamic State, have become quasi-state actors that have sought to strengthen their independent political and economic power at the expense of government authority; and the Iraqi economy stands on the brink of financial collapse, with a massive budget deficit and insufficient oil revenues.
These changes, and the legacy of the Trump administration’s Iran-centric Iraq policy, have combined to erode the United States’ credibility and influence in Baghdad. Nowadays, U.S. policymakers increasingly struggle to get a serious hearing in Iraqi political debates, and the return of many familiar faces from the Obama days is not going to change that. Washington still has friends at the highest levels of government in Baghdad, but the numbers are fewer, and their ability to promote policies that align with U.S. interests is weaker.