Memories of the Islamic State’s 2014-2015 “caliphate” peak in Iraq and Syria colour views of its present capacity, leading officials and observers either to exaggerate or understate its threat. In Iraq, the group does pose a danger. Gauging it properly is key to containing it.
Tensions escalated between PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s govt and U.S. on one hand and Iran-backed militias on the other. Two unknown attackers 6 July shot and killed Hisham al-Hashemi, prominent security adviser of PM Kadhimi as well as critic of Sunni and Iran-backed armed groups in Iraq, in capital Baghdad; Kadhimi 7 July said govt would prosecute perpetrators as no one was “above the law”. Kataib Hizbollah 8 July warned of “escalation” if Kadhimi continued crackdown on militia after security forces late June carried out raid on group’s base in Baghdad suburb. U.S. General Kenneth McKenzie 7 July reaffirmed U.S. would continue military presence in Iraq; suspected Iran-backed militias 5, 19 July conducted rocket attacks against U.S. positions in Baghdad’s Green Zone, reportedly injuring one child. Iran-backed militia Saraya Thawrat al-Ishreen al-Thania 11 July attacked Iraqi vehicles transporting U.S. military supplies near Diwaniyah. Unclaimed rockets 24 July struck Basmaya base south of Baghdad hosting U.S. troops and 27 July struck Camp Taji in north. In reshuffle of security institutions, Kadhimi 4 July dismissed Faleh al-Fayyadh from important security posts; appointed new head of Iraqi National Security Service and national security adviser. Following unprecedented financial shortfalls and failed reform attempts, Kadhimi 11 July launched campaign against corruption to recover import tax revenue lost to bribery. Demonstrators 10-14 July took to streets in several southern provinces to protest low electricity supply; clashes between protesters and security forces 26 July killed two and wounded dozens during protest in central Baghdad over electricity cuts. Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces 11 July launched fourth phase of anti-Islamic State (ISIS) military operation; three militants reportedly killed, one arrested and 15 hideouts destroyed. UN expert at UN Human Rights Council 9 July called U.S. killing in Jan of Iran’s Qods Force chief and Popular Mobilisation Unit deputy chief “unlawful”; U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo same day denounced UN report as “spurious”. After Turkish armed forces early July expanded operations against Kurdistan Workers Party in northern Iraq, President Barham Salih 16 July called for international stance against Turkey’s violations of Iraqi territorial sovereignty. Interior minister 29 July met Kurdistan Regional Government counterpart to discuss security cooperation in disputed territories.
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 July protests against inadequate supplies of jobs, water and electricity swept across southern Iraq, reaching Baghdad. The ruling elites should heed demonstrators’ calls to improve public services and stamp out corruption – or risk reigniting popular discontent and tempting would-be strongmen to step in.
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.
As protests continue to rage across Iraq, both government *and* civic leaders are responsible for charting a way forward and averting new violence.
[A rocket attack on Baghdad's Green Zone] was a way to test the limits of the Americans. Whoever did it is aware that the red line for the Trump administration is bloodshed.
Fifteen years after the change of order in Iraq, it’s the same problem. The central government is unable or unwilling to address problems across the board in Iraq. The corruption is endemic, the government’s inability to deal with it is endemic, and the protests are endemic.
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.
A surge in street protests in Iraq has left some 110 people dead and exposed a rift between the government and a population frustrated by poor governance, inadequate services and miserable living conditions. To avert further violence, the authorities and protesters should open dialogue channels.