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.
Rocket attacks targeted U.S.-led forces, Pope Francis embarked on historic visit, and anti-govt protests continued in south. Unknown assailants 3 March fired barrage of rockets at Ain al-Asad airbase in western Anbar province that hosts U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi military forces; one U.S. contractor died of cardiac arrest. Unidentified group 15 March launched rockets at Iraqi military’s Balad airbase, north of capital Baghdad, leaving no casualties, while stray rockets damaged civilian house. In first ever trip to Iraq, Pope Francis 5 March arrived in Baghdad and made presidential palace address, urging “an end to acts of violence and extremism, factions and intolerance”; Pope 6 March met senior Shia leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf to discuss religious coexistence and protection of Christian population of Iraq; Pope 7 March arrived in Erbil city to meet Kurdish leaders and travelled to formerly Islamic State (ISIS)-occupied Christian town Qaraqosh. Meanwhile in south, protests 8 March resumed in al-Muthanna governorate following lull during Pope’s visit, demanding dismissal of governor. Demonstrators 13, 14 March clashed with security forces in Najaf city during protest demanding resignation of governor, injuring at least ten. Protests 15 March resumed in Nasiriyah city with roadblock and 31 March shut down Dhi Qar oil refinery. Unidentified gunmen 10 March shot dead Jaseb Hattab, father of kidnapped activist Ali Jaseb Hattab, in Maysan province; Hattab had blamed Iran-backed group for son’s kidnapping. Protesters 11, 12 March demonstrated in Baghdad and Muthanna, Babil, Maysan, and Dhi Qar governorates to condemn killing and 12 March clashed with security forces near provincial govt offices in Samawah city, Muthanna governorate. In Sinjar city, Ninewa province, Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) supporters 10 March clashed with Iraqi army during protest against deadline for removal from area of PKK forces, as stipulated in Oct 2020 deal, leaving one civilian injured. ISIS 12 March claimed responsibility for murders of family of six in Al-Bou Dor village, Salahaddin province. Coalition 20 March conducted airstrikes in Qarachogh mountain region over numerous days, destroying dozens of ISIS hideouts and killing unknown number of ISIS militants.
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.