Protests in 2019-2020 forced Iraq’s government to resign, parliament to adopt a new elections law and authorities to organise early elections, scheduled for 10 October. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Lahib Higel says ruling parties are vying for support amid apathy and low expectations.
Opposition parties announced boycott of October polls, Islamic State (ISIS) conducted deadliest attack this year, and Turkey continued operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). In run-up to 10 Oct elections, office of PM al-Kadhimi 1 Sept announced security forces had thwarted plan to “rig the elections by putting pressure on a number of election commission employees”. Around 40 political parties associated with 2019 Tishreen protest movement 4 Sept announced boycott of elections, saying polls “lack integrity, fairness and equal opportunities”. UN official 22 Sept said UN election observers will number over 800. Meanwhile, series of suspected ISIS attacks continued. Notably, in Kirkuk governorate suspected ISIS militants 2 Sept killed one soldier; 5 Sept killed 13 federal police officers in Rashad region in deadliest attack this year; 11 Sept killed three federal police officers. ISIS ambush 21 Sept killed two in Garmiyan area, Sulaymaniyah governorate. Military and Peshmerga 17 Sept announced joint security operation against ISIS. Turkey continued operations – including airstrikes – against PKK in northern Iraq (see Turkey). In sign of increasing PKK retaliatory at-tacks in population centres, IED 15 Sept killed two members of so-called Rojava Peshmerga armed group in Akre, Duhok governorate. Unknown assailants 18 Sept shot dead mid-ranking PKK commander Yasin Bulut in Sulaymaniyah province. In-security and attacks persisted across country. In Nineveh governorate, gunmen 5 Sept killed at least three soldiers in attack on army checkpoint south of Mosul city; attack on vehicle same day killed paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Forces commander in Babil governorate. Explosives attack 11 Sept killed at least four near Makhmour. Rockets 11 Sept targeted Erbil International Airport hosting U.S.-led coalition; in al-Muthanna governorate, IED next day reportedly targeted international coalition convoy. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) 9 Sept fired missiles at headquarters of unspecified foreign-backed organisation near Erbil city; Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran same day said it was targeted; IRGC 20 Sept struck four bases belonging to “anti-revolutionary groups”. While Baghdad and Washington 16 Sept reportedly agreed to reduce U.S. troops in Anbar and Erbil provinces, New York Times 20 Sept reported that U.S. deployed additional 2,000 troops for nine months.
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.
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.
[Shiite Muslim cleric] Sadr has been selling himself as a viable option, and a central one in Iraqi politics.
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)
A short illustrated look at the story of Iraq's internal displacement crisis.
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.