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.
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.
PM Kadhimi embarked on major govt reshuffle amid persistent attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces and partial withdrawal of U.S. troops. In significant govt reshuffle, PM Kadhimi 14 Sept replaced heads of Central Bank and Trade Bank of Iraq, mayor of Baghdad, and eight deputy ministers; opposition coalitions Sairoon Alliance, al-Fatah and State of Law 15 Sept separately criticised move, while Baghdad protesters same day accused PM of sectarian motivations. Kadhimi 14 Sept also replaced heads of Iraqi National Intelligence Service and provincial command centres in Anbar, Basra, Diyala and Salah al-Din. In sign of support for govt’s program, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani 13 Sept wrote letter to Kadhimi in support of early elections and called on govt to combat corruption, control border crossings and confiscate illegal arms. Meanwhile, authorities 16-17 Sept arrested senior govt employees – heads of Iraq’s retirement fund and Baghdad’s investment commission – as well as CEO of electronic payment company Q-card as part of PM’s anti-corruption drive. Attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces continued: numerous IED attacks 3-19 Sept targeted foreign diplomats and supply convoys of coalition forces, reportedly killing one and injuring another; unidentified groups 15-16 and 22 Sept fired rockets at green zone; rocket attack 28 Sept near Baghdad’s airport killed five civilians. Following successful rounds of U.S.-Iraq “strategic dialogue” in Washington DC, U.S. 9 Sept declared force drawdown from 5,200 to 3,000 troops as U.S. Central Command cited advances in Iraqi forces’ capacity to fight Islamic State (ISIS). U.S. 25 Sept informed Baghdad of intention to close embassy unless govt helped stop attacks on U.S. personnel. ISIS-related violence and military operations against group continued: Iraqi security forces and coalition 10-14 Sept killed at least 14 ISIS militants in Ninewa, Salah ad-Din, Kirkuk, Anbar and Diyala; ISIS attacks around Diyala and Kirkuk 12-17 Sept killed at least 11; later in month, Popular Mobilization Forces 19 Sept killed five ISIS fighters south of Mosul. Kadhimi 10 Sept completed first visit to Erbil, raising prospect of improved relations between Baghdad and Kurdistan Autonomous Region and expectation of upcoming new security arrangements in disputed territories.
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.
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.
[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 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.
A surge in street protests in Iraq has left some 110 people dead and exposed a rift between the government and a population frustrated by poor governance, inadequate services and miserable living conditions. To avert further violence, the authorities and protesters should open dialogue channels.