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.
Iran-linked armed groups vowed to increase attacks on U.S. forces and targeted killings increased ahead of October election, fuelling climate of fear; Islamic State (ISIS) launched annual Ramadan offensive. Unknown groups 2-4, 24 May fired rockets at U.S.-led coalition troops in Baghdad airport as well as Balad and Ain al-Asad airbases. Coalition of Iran-aligned armed groups 24 May declared end of unofficial truce with U.S. forces and vowed further attacks, citing “lack of seriousness” of U.S. troop withdrawal. Meanwhile, targeted killings increased, sending chilling message ahead of Oct polls. Unidentified gunmen 9 May killed prominent activist Ihab al-Wazni in Karbala city; protesters same day rallied in Karbala to condemn killing, resulting in roadblocks and torching of vehicles outside Iranian consulate over accusations of pro-Iranian militia involvement. Unknown assailants 10 May shot and seriously injured journalist Ahmed Hassan in Diwaniya city (south). Unknown assailants 22 May injured activist Mohammed Khayat in Nasiriyah city; protesters same day stormed Dhi Qar governorate building. Head of Sunni political bloc Azm Coalition 22 May announced unknown assailants killed electoral candidate. Amid violence, several new parties linked to Oct 2019 protest movement throughout month announced withdrawal from poll citing fear of persecution. In attempt to regain public confidence, PM Kadhimi ordered security forces to raid group affiliated to paramilitary coalition Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), allegedly responsible for killing activist Reham Yacoub in August 2020; in retaliation, suspected PMF-affiliated groups 13 May reportedly attacked security forces’ headquarters in Basra city (south). Kadhimi then ordered arrest of high profile PMF member Qassim Mahmoud Musleh on terrorism charges, prompting PMF factions 26 May to stage large armed rally surrounding Baghdad’s Green Zone. Protesters in capital Baghdad 25 May demanded accountability for some 600 people killed since Oct 2019 protest movement began, and clashed with security forces who responded with live ammunition, killing two. Meanwhile, ISIS conducted dozens of attacks in Diyala and Kirkuk provinces as part of annual Ramadan offensive. Notably in Kirkuk, ISIS fighters 1 May killed three peshmerga officers and 5 May killed at least eight members of federal security forces.
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.
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.
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.