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.
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.
Federal govt continued to pressure Kurdistan Regional Govt (KRG) after seizing Kirkuk and other disputed areas in Oct. Kurdish President Barzani resigned 1 Nov under pressure from domestic Kurdish opposition. Federal govt 1 Nov threatened to resume military operations to capture Kurdish-held areas along borders with Syria, Turkey and Iran if Kurds did not hand them over; 2 Nov announced plans to place all oil exports from Kurdish area and Kirkuk province to Turkey under control of federal-run oil company; 6 Nov proposed reducing KRG’s share of federal budget from 17% to 12.6% based on population size; and reiterated refusal to enter political negotiations unless KRG rescinds 25 Sept independence referendum result. Supreme Court 20 Nov declared referendum unconstitutional and its result void. State security forces and Shia Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) continued to make gains against Islamic State (ISIS), retaking al-Qaim 3 Nov and Rawa 17 Nov both in Anbar province near Syrian border. PM Abadi 21 Nov said ISIS had been militarily defeated in Iraq with just remnants in desert; army and PMUs 23 Nov began operation to clear remaining fighters in desert areas along border with Syria. Suicide lorry bombing 20 Nov killed at least 23 people in city of Tuz Khormato, 190km north of Baghdad; attack unclaimed. Turkey claimed that its 27 Nov airstrike in northern Iraq killed 80 militants reportedly belonging to Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
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.
Iraqi youth who came of age during the post-2003 turmoil share a sense of hopelessness and disempowerment. Across the political spectrum, they feel trapped: join a protest movement or militia, or emigrate. Even amid the severe challenges the government and its partners face, this generation must be prioritised, lest Iraq’s most important resource become a major security threat.
The US-led coalition’s military assistance to Kurdish forces against the Islamic State (IS) is inadvertently accelerating intra-Kurdish fragmentation. The West should coordinate its aid better, build upon Iraqi Kurdistan’s past efforts in transforming its peshmergas into a professional military, and encourage Kurdish coordination with Iraq’s central government in the fight against IS.
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.
In 2008-09, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) carried out an extensive study on what it called Iraq’s ‘Disputed Internal Boundaries’ (DIBs) and proposed specific ways forward to settle the question of the Kurdish region’s boundary and the disposition of the income derived from the sale of oil and gas located there.
[Kurdistan Regional Government of President Masoud Barzani] may have made a miscalculation of historic proportions by proceeding with the [independence] referendum over the objections of just about everyone who counts.
The fight [between the Kurdish and Iraqi forces] is clearly not over. The potential for civil war is there.
If things escalate [after Baghdad’s threats of military action against the Kurds], it will be because of a particular dynamic that evolves. I don’t think we’re even close to that point.
For decades, Washington has been content to indulge Kurdish dreams of independence. Why was Erbil willing to play along?
Originally published in The Atlantic
The Islamic State’s defeat is looming, and with it a host of diverse challenges overshadow Iraq’s future, ranging from outright confrontation between Erbil and Baghdad to the demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration of myriad armed groups previously involved in the anti-ISIS campaign. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – Third Update early warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to support the Erbil government to exit the current political crisis and encourage security sector reform in Iraq as a whole.
The “yes” vote in the 25 September 2017 referendum will not deliver independence for Iraqi Kurds. Rather, it is designed merely to remind Iraqi leaders in Baghdad that it is the Kurds’ strong wish to split off from a country from which they have always felt alien.
On September 25, Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani plans to hold a referendum on Kurdish independence. The results will not be legally binding, but in calling for a vote, the Kurdish leadership has put its own society and its foreign partners into a bind. Although the vote may extend the lifespan of a Kurdish leadership otherwise in decline, it calls for unity that mutes domestic dissent and risks provoking crises that will leave Kurdistan externally exposed.
Originally published in Foreign Affairs
Originally published in World Politics Review