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.
Widespread perceptions of fraud in May 2018 elections to Iraq’s Council of Representatives have triggered demonstrations in Kirkuk and fears of inter-ethnic violence. Crisis Group is calling for a vote recount in Kirkuk to restore confidence in the institutions vital to manage deeper divisions over the contested, oil-rich area.
Following 12 May general election, parties winning least parliamentary seats continued to contest results and election-related violence persisted, while those winning most seats made tentative alliances to form new govt. PM Abadi 5 June criticised “dangerous” violations of electoral laws, blaming electoral commission and electronic voting system. Outgoing parliament late May cancelled votes by Iraqis overseas, internally displaced people and peshmerga fighters and 6 June voted in favour of nationwide partial recount and to replace electoral commission with nine judges. Higher Federal Court 21 June reversed cancellation of votes, but confirmed partial recount. Judges in charge of recount 30 June said only suspect ballots flagged in formal complaints or official reports would be recounted; recount to begin 3 July. Unidentified arsonists 10 June set fire to building in Rusafa district, eastern Baghdad, that housed over half of ballots from Baghdad. Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, leader of coalition that won most seats, announced alliances with Hadi al-Ameri’s bloc 12 June and with PM Abadi’s bloc 23 June to lay foundation for creation of new govt. In other violence, explosion at illegal weapons cache in Sadr city, Baghdad 6 June killed eighteen; Moqtada al-Sadr next day called on govt to disarm civilian factions. Unclaimed bombing 9 June killed two in Khalis, Diyala province. Islamic State (ISIS) claimed numerous attacks in Diyala and Nineveh provinces, targeting police. Air force continued strikes in Syria, claiming strikes in Hajin 22 June killed 45 ISIS militants. Govt-aligned Shia militia Popular Mobilisation Units said airstrike in eastern Syria 17 June, for which it held U.S. responsible, killed 22 of its fighters; U.S. denied responsibility, Israel reportedly carried out strikes. In north, Turkey continued operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants: Turkish military claimed its airstrikes had killed 35 militants 15 June and ten more 20 June.
Saudi Arabia has been forging links to Iraq since reopening its Baghdad embassy in 2016. Its adversary Iran has strong Iraqi ties. If Riyadh avoids antagonising Tehran, invests wisely and quiets anti-Shiite rhetoric, Iraq can be a bridge between the rival powers - not a battleground.
Though the Islamic State (ISIS) is beaten in Iraq, the battle for the country’s political soul is not over. Baghdad should act to restore local governance in Sinjar, where ISIS terrorised the local community, and encourage the district’s displaced people to return home.
September’s independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan has pushed Baghdad to take control of Kirkuk and its oil fields from Kurdish control. To avert the threat of further direct confrontation, the two sides must agree to a reinvigorated UN-led effort to settle longstanding disputes over internal boundaries and shared oil revenues.
The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its Syrian affiliates face a stark choice: risk their gains in northern Syria through continued prioritisation of the PKK's fight against Turkey, or pursue local self-rule in the area they have carved out of the chaos of the Syrian war.
The U.S. campaign against ISIS in northern Syria both benefits from and is complicated by its partnership with an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group fighting against its NATO ally Turkey. The challenges will grow as the war on ISIS moves further east.
This report examines President Trump’s emerging counter-terrorism policies, the dilemmas his administration faces in battling ISIS and al-Qaeda across the Middle East and South Asia, and how to avoid deepening the disorder both groups exploit.
Fifteen years after the change of order in Iraq, it’s the same problem. The central government is unable or unwilling to address problems across the board in Iraq. The corruption is endemic, the government’s inability to deal with it is endemic, and the protests are endemic.
If the group that is most adamantly in favour of combating corruption [in Iraq] is incapable or unwilling to do anything about it, frustrations could take a different turn.
The [Iraqi] government budget will form the bulk of [the World Bank] money, followed by private investment. Donors are seen as an added boost, not the bulk.
[The international conference in Kuwait on Iraq's reconstruction] is a signal to [Prime Minister] Abadi going into elections. This gives him something tangible to take back to Baghdad.
Tensions [within Kurdish political parties] are likely to endure, unless the Masoud/Masrour Barzani line relaxes its control and allows its rivals to fully participate in decision-making.
For the Sunnis, there's a lack of political cohesion about exactly what they want. [Iraq's] Abadi government has never needed the Sunnis more than now.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are actively fighting one another in the media, through armed proxies, in cyberspace and with Western lobbyists. But in Iraq they should both see the case for détente.
Originally published in The Hill
The results of Iraq’s 12 May parliamentary contests are not yet final, but the broad contours are apparent. Efforts to fashion a coalition government will likely involve lengthy bargaining. Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director Joost Hiltermann offers a preliminary analysis.
Given Iraq’s history of election-season instability, the upcoming presidential election could deepen existing tensions rather than unify the country. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018, Crisis Group proposes several actions for the EU and its member states to work toward overcoming intra-Iraqi challenges.
Kurdish officials once dreamed of forging their own state out of the ashes of the war against the Islamic State. Now they are fighting for their very survival.
Originally published in Foreign Policy
The human cost of the war on ISIS has become too easy for Americans to ignore.
Originally published in The Atlantic