Iraq has been successively ravaged by the 1980-1988 war with Iran, crippling sanctions after its invasion of Kuwait in 1990, internal conflict after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, and the transnational jihadists of Islamic State after 2014. Its multiple challenges further include sectarian violence and Kurdish separatism. Crisis Group aims to promote locally-centred stabilisation and better governance of post-ISIS Iraq in order to reduce the risk of violent flare-ups in liberated areas and mitigate the impact of foreign strategic competition, notably between Iran and the U.S. Through field research, advocacy and engagement with all sides, we urge countries involved in the anti-ISIS campaign to support security sector and institutional reform in Iraq as well. On the Kurdish front, we urge a return to a UN-led process to resolve the question of the disputed territories, especially Kirkuk, and of oil revenue-sharing.
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard is joined by Lahib Higel, Crisis Group’s Iraq expert, to discuss the recent escalation between U.S. forces and Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria and what it means for the presence of American troops in Iraq.
Iran launched first direct attack in Iraq since Gaza war and hostilities between U.S. and Tehran-backed militias escalated; region braced for retaliation after Iraqi umbrella group killed U.S. troops in Jordan.
Gaza war continued to fuel escalation. In first direct Iranian attack since start of war in Gaza, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps 15 Jan launched three missiles at house of prominent Kurdish businessman in Kurdistan’s regional capital Erbil, killing at least four; like similar strike in March 2022, Iran claimed attack targeted Mossad activities, which Kurdistan Regional Govt (KRG) denied. Meanwhile, U.S. 4 Jan struck Iran-backed Harakat al-Nujaba group in capital Baghdad, reportedly killing four, including commander of paramilitary coalition Hashd al-Shaabi. U.S. for first time acknowledged use of ballistic missiles by Iran-backed umbrella group Islamic Resistance in Iraq in 20 Jan attack on Ain al-Asad base in Anbar governorate, injuring several personnel. In major escalation marking first fatal strike on U.S. forces since Gaza war, drone attacks by Islamic Resistance in Iraq, likely operating in Syria, 28 Jan killed three U.S. personnel in north-eastern Jordan (see Jordan). U.S. and Iraq late Jan began formal talks on withdrawal of U.S. forces. Militant group Kataib Hizbollah 30 Jan announced suspension of attacks on U.S. forces “to prevent embarrassment” of Iraqi govt.Türkiye-PKK attacks intensified in north. Late Dec spate of attacks on Turkish troops continued, as PKK 5 Jan killed five soldiers in attack on military base and clash 12 Jan killed nine Turkish soldiers. In response, Türkiye 12-16 Jan launched airstrikes in both northern Iraq and Syria, targeting PKK/People’s Protection Units militants. Ankara also increased attacks on Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), party based in Sulaymaniyah province; Turkish FM Hakan Fidan 16 Jan threatened “further measures” if PUK did not change its attitude toward PKK.Baghdad and Erbil ended budget dispute; Islamic State (ISIS) maintained activity. After KRG President Barzani’s 13 Jan visit to Baghdad, govt next day agreed to allocate monthly funds to KRG, marking shift from previous arrangement of loans. Suspected ISIS militants 6 Jan reportedly attacked Hashd al-Shaabi forces in Salah al-Din governorate, killing two; 14 Jan killed three soldiers near Haditha town.
Installing a monarchy that wasn’t very popular and that was overthrown in 1958 was the ignition for the many problems that the modern Iraqi state has faced.
The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq infused the country’s Kurds with renewed hope of loosening the bonds that tie them to Baghdad. But subsequent events have dampened that spirit. Despite considerable progress toward autonomy, the historical Kurdish predicament endures.
The core lesson of the 2003 Iraq war is that ruptures in autocratic settings are inherently fraught with risk. Policymakers should approach proposed interventions in such settings with caution.
The architects of the 2003 invasion of Iraq had grand visions of transforming the Middle East in favour of U.S. interests. Two decades later, it is clear that the venture was a failure not just in that respect, but in most others as well.
Iraq has a new government after months of delay, but various challenges to stability persist. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2023, Crisis Group explains how the EU and its member states can help support necessary reforms.
This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood talks to Crisis Group’s Iraq expert Lahib Higel about the crisis in Iraq, with parties unable to form a government almost a year after elections and the deadliest clashes the Iraqi capital has seen in years erupting in late August.
Demonstrators are occupying parliament in Baghdad, with Iraq’s main political camps deeply divided. The standoff need not turn violent, if the country’s leaders can shift to dialogue with support from foreign partners.
Sinjar has yet to recover from the ravages of 2014, when ISIS subjected the population to unrelenting terror. Thousands remain displaced. To persuade them to return, the Iraqi federal and Kurdish regional governments will need help from the current residents in improving governance and security.
Turkey is increasingly relying on airpower in its fight against the PKK. New parties have been drawn into the conflict as it spreads to new theatres in Iraq and Syria, which, for now at least, complicates potential efforts to settle things down.
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