At the advent of President Joe Biden’s tenure, the U.S. confronts numerous foreign policy problems old and new. His administration should discard failed approaches, such as over-reliance on coercion, as it works to craft policies in service of a more peaceful world.
Suspected Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) paramilitary groups continued rocket attacks in capital Baghdad and north as U.S. and govt struck initial deal on withdrawal of coalition troops. Tensions continued between PMF-affiliated groups and U.S. forces. Leader of PMF-affiliated group Asaib Ahl al-Haq 1 April threatened attacks on U.S. assets. Unidentified militants 4 April launched two rockets at Balad air base, north of Baghdad, with no reported casualties, and at least five rockets 18 April hit Balad city in Saladin governorate, wounding two Iraqi soldiers. Explosive-laden drone 14 April targeted coalition forces at Erbil International Airport; pro-Iran group Saraya Awliya al-Dam praised attack; rockets 22 April hit Erbil airport, leaving no reported casualties. In response, Kurdish peshmerga 15 April fired rocket at PMF Brigade 30 outpost in Hamdaniya, Ninewa. Tensions between PMF-linked groups and Turkey over presence of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Sinjar district continued. After Turkish Ministry of Defence 3 April declared readiness to take all necessary measures to “neutralise” PKK presence in area, unidentified armed group 14 April fired rockets at Zilkan military base in Ninewa governorate hosting Turkish military personnel, killing one Turkish soldier; two rockets same day fell short in Gudad village, injuring two civilians; Iraqi security forces recovered launcher in area where PMF Brigade 30 operates; fighting late month killed four more Turkish soldiers. Car bomb 15 April detonated in Sadr City neighbourhood, Baghdad, killing four and wounding 17 with no group immediately claiming responsibility. Meanwhile, U.S. and Iraq 7 April agreed upon withdrawal of all U.S. and coalition combat troops deployed to fight Islamic State (ISIS) forces, stating forces are now “focused on training and advisory tasks”, with further talks expected on exact withdrawal timeline. In south, protesters 3 April shut down three oil facilities in Dhi Qar governorate over lack of support for job security in oil sector in annual federal budget approved 31 March. Protesters 25 April took to streets in several governorates, including Dhi Qar, Wasit, Babil, Karbala and Basra in solidarity with victims of 24 April fire in Baghdad hospital that killed at least 82 people.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis remain uprooted and unable to go home after the war to defeat ISIS. The worst off are those, mainly women and children, perceived to have jihadist ties. Iraq and its partners should find ways to end their displacement.
Federal forces now patrol Kirkuk, the diverse, oil-rich province disputed between the central and Kurdish regional governments. The arrangement is unsettling communal relations, with Kurds feeling excluded. With outside help, Baghdad and Erbil should design a joint security mechanism including a locally recruited multi-ethnic unit.
Once again, the Islamic State may be poised to recover from defeat in its original bases of Iraq and Syria. It is still possible, however, for the jihadist group’s many foes to nip its regrowth in the bud.
Should U.S.-Iranian tensions escalate to a shooting war, Iraq would likely be the first battleground. Washington and Tehran should stop trying to drag Baghdad into their fight. The Iraqi government should redouble its efforts to remain neutral and safeguard the country’s post-ISIS recovery.
Backlash to the 2017 independence referendum bolstered family rule within Iraq’s two main Kurdish parties. Internal democracy has eroded; ties between the parties have frayed. Only strong institutions in Erbil and renewed inter-party cooperation can help Iraqi Kurdistan to reach a sustainable settlement with Baghdad on outstanding issues.
The fallout is settling after the Iraqi army’s seizure of territories disputed between Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdish region. More conflict over these areas, particularly oil-rich Kirkuk, is predictable. The UN should take advantage of today’s quiet to explore negotiations on the contested lands’ status.
In comparison to previous protests [in Iraq's Kurdish north] these are significant as the current fiscal crisis affects larger swaths of the population.
The trend here is that the U.S. is withdrawing (from Iraq). If they are not doing it now, then they are doing it eventually.
It seems that what is left of ISIS networks now is that they are getting organized in smaller groups of five or six people who may not be connected to each other even.
If the United States is forced out of Iraq in an ugly, contentious fashion, it could poison the bilateral relationship. (Quoted with Maria Fantappie)
The Iraqis don’t want either the United States or Iran, but if they have to have one, they would rather have both because they balance each other out.
[Iraqi] people make a direct connection between the failure and the corruption of the Shia political establishment, both politicians and some clerics, and the Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs.
The new Iraqi prime minister has several daunting tasks. Not only must he navigate the politics that delayed his cabinet’s formation, but he must also deal with plummeting state revenues, simmering public discontent and – last but hardly least – rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
A new wave of popular protests has jolted an already deeply unsettled Arab world. Nine years ago, uprisings across the region signalled a rejection of corrupt autocratic rule that failed to deliver jobs, basic services and reliable infrastructure. Yet regime repression and the protests’ lack of organisation, leadership and unified vision thwarted hopes of a new order. As suddenly as the uprisings erupted, as quickly they descended into violence. What followed was either brutal civil war or regime retrenchment. Tunisia stands as the sole, still fragile, exception.
Originally published in Valdai Club
Turkey’s ruling party sees recent battlefield and electoral gains as vindicating its hardline policies toward the PKK. But these same policies fuel the Kurdish grievances that keep the fighting going. Ankara would thus be wise to consider exploring ways of winding down the destructive conflict.