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.
Anti-govt protests erupted in capital Baghdad and southern provinces leading to violent crackdown on protesters that left at least 250 dead and 8,000 wounded; violence and political instability could rise further in Nov. After demotion of iconic general stirred anger late Sept, protesters 1 Oct took to streets in Baghdad calling for jobs, improved public services and end to corruption. Security forces’ violent attempts to disperse protests, including with live ammunition, caused protests to swell and spread to southern provinces. Before unrest subsided 7 Oct clashes left 149 protesters and eight members of security forces dead. PM Mahdi 9 Oct announced measures including cabinet reshuffle, punishment of corrupt officials, job creation schemes and stipends for poor. Highest Shiite authority Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani 11 Oct denounced repression and called on govt to investigate; Mahdi next day launched commission of inquiry, which 22 Oct blamed security officials for losing control of forces; govt same day fired 44 army and police commanders. Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr 19 Oct expressed support for protests and called on govt to resign. Protesters 25 Oct returned to streets in Baghdad and southern provinces calling, among other things, for Mahdi to resign. Further clashes left scores killed and wounded; notably in Karbala, about 100km south of Baghdad, security forces 29 Oct sought to disperse crowds violently leaving at least fourteen dead. Explosion at weapons depot near Baghdad reportedly linked to Iran-backed paramilitaries 14 Oct injured twelve security force members. Unclaimed rocket strike on Baghdad’s Green Zone 30 Oct killed one soldier. U.S. 17 Oct renewed sanctions waiver allowing Iraq to continue importing Iranian energy for 120 more days. Islamic State attack in Salah al-Din province 21 Oct left two dead. U.S. 20 Oct said it would move forces it withdrew from Syria to western Iraq; Iraqi military 22 Oct said U.S. troops did not have permission to stay. In north, Turkish airstrikes 1-15 Oct left five PKK members dead.
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.
A struggle looms in Iraq over the future of paramilitary groups assembled to help the state defeat ISIS. These units remain under arms and autonomous. Baghdad should strengthen the interior and defence ministries so they can absorb the paramilitaries now undercutting the state’s authority.
[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.
If the group that is most adamantly in favour of combating corruption [in Iraq] is incapable or unwilling to do anything about it, frustrations could take a different turn.
The [Iraqi] government budget will form the bulk of [the World Bank] money, followed by private investment. Donors are seen as an added boost, not the bulk.
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.
Researching the talks on forming a new Iraqi ruling coalition, our Senior Adviser for Iraq Maria Fantappie finds a country whose youth, women, civil society, officials and even politicians are hungry for bottom-up change to a stalemated, top-down system of governance.
Tabloid sensationalism about Shamima Begum flattens important debates about how much agency these women have.
Originally published in The Guardian
Despite their traumatic history, Iraqis are finding individual and civic solutions to their country’s political failures. Crisis Group photographer Julie David de Lossy visited Baghdad in October-November 2018 and returned with portraits of its people’s search for normalcy.