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.
In parliamentary elections 12 May, Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s coalition won largest number of seats – 54 out of 328 – with Hadi al-Ameri’s Fatah Alliance winning 47 and incumbent PM Abadi’s Nasr coalition coming third with 42; parties began bargaining over PM and cabinet positions. Voter turnout was low at 44.5%, down from 62% in last election in 2014. Political violence flared before and after vote. Farouk Zarzour, candidate in Ninevah province, shot dead by family members 6 May, reportedly because he advocated relations with secularists; Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility. Thugs in Zakho and Dohuk and police in Suleimaniya reportedly assaulted opposition politicians in late April and early May. After vote, allegations of electoral fraud triggered violence, mainly in Kurdistan: electoral commission 16 May said unidentified armed men took over Kirkuk election office, preventing 186 ballot boxes from being sent to Baghdad. Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Peshmerga forces 13 May fired at headquarters of Kurdish opposition Gorran Movement in Suleimaniya. Air force continued strikes on ISIS positions around Syrian towns of Hajin and Dashishah throughout May; govt claimed to have killed 40 ISIS fighters. ISIS claimed numerous attacks in Diyala province. In north, Turkey continued operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants. PKK militants reportedly killed two Turkish soldiers 21 May.
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.
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.
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.
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