The huge demonstrations that rocked Iraqi cities two years ago reverberate still, with the main grievances unaddressed. Protests could arise anew at any time, risking another lethal crackdown. The government should hold those who harmed protesters accountable and work to ensure clean elections in October.
Amid ongoing calls to resolve targeted killings of activists, rocket attacks continued to target U.S.-led coalition and skirmishes broke out between Kurdish factions. Rocket attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces persisted. Armed group 6 June launched rocket at Baghdad international airport base hosting coalition forces; U.S. troops same day shot down two drones above Ain al-Asad airbase, Anbar province. Three drones 9 June struck Balad airbase, Salahaddin province; rockets same day struck capital Baghdad, with no casualties reported. Iraqi armed forces 16 June shot down two explosives-laden drones over Baghdad military facilities. Rocket 20 June struck Ain al-Asad airbase, with no casualties reported. After pro-Iran armed groups linked to paramilitary coalition Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) vowed to increase attacks on coalition forces following 26 May arrest of Anbar PMF commander Qasim Muslih suspected of involvement in killings of activists, authorities 9 June released Muslih, citing lack of evidence, in possible sign of govt’s desire to avoid confrontation with PMF. PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi 12 June met protesters in Nasiriyah city, stating “the assault on [activists] comes as part of a battle waged by the state against corruption”. Protesters 20 June staged sit-in in front of Karbala court, Erbil city, demanding govt accountability for May killing of anti-corruption activist Ihab al-Wazni. Meanwhile, tensions rose between Kurdish factions amid Turkish attacks on Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Ankara 5 June used drones to strike PKK forces near camp for internally displaced south of Erbil, killing at least three civilians; Turkish drone 13 June targeted PKK vehicle in Sulaymaniyah province, killing three militants and civilian driver. Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) during month established outposts closer to PKK areas; PKK 5 June launched missile at KRG convoy in Amedi district, killing at least one Peshmerga member; PKK 8 June launched rocket at border area of Zakho district, killing one Peshmerga member. Elsewhere, Iraqi military 14 June launched new operation against Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Jazeera region and Anbar, western Nineveh and Salahaddin provinces. U.S. 27 June announced airstrikes in Iraq and Syria targeting “facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups”; Iran’s foreign affairs ministry criticised action.
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.
Successive [Iraqi] governments since the military victory over ISIS have failed to integrate the PMF. It has become a force in itself, pursuing its own interests.
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.
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.
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.