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.
Despite their traumatic history, Iraqis are finding individual and civic solutions to their country’s political failures. Crisis Group photographer Julie David de Lossy visited Baghdad in October-November 2018 and returned with portraits of its people’s search for normalcy.
In govt formation process following May 2018 legislative elections, rival political blocs continued to contest remaining empty cabinet posts, especially interior and defence. Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr late Nov denounced Iran’s support for former National Security Adviser Faleh al-Fayyad for interior minister. MPs aligned to Sadr and former PM Abadi boycotted parliamentary session to vote in remaining ministers 4 Dec, preventing Fayyad’s election. Parliament 24 Dec approved Shaima Khalil as education minister and Nawfal Moussa as migration minister, leaving three seats unfilled. In Kurdistan, dominant party Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) 3 Dec appointed KDP head Massoud Barzani’s son and nephew as Kurdish PM and president respectively. KDP 13 Dec announced willingness to reopen road connecting Dohuk, Dohuk province (north) and Sinjar, Nineveh province (north west) to help enable displaced Yazidis to return home. Islamic State (ISIS)-related insecurity continued; bombing in Youssef Bek village, Diyala province (east) killed two policemen 11 Dec and bombing in Ramadi, Anbar province (west) killed policeman 15 Dec. Govt 12 Dec claimed its airstrike against ISIS camp in Syria killed 44 militants. In north west, ISIS-claimed car bombing killed three people in Tal Afar, Nineveh province 25 Dec. In far north, Turkey continued operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) with airstrikes killing eight militants 13 Dec and six more 16 Dec. U.S. 20 Dec granted Iraq 90-day extension of its exemption from U.S. sanctions on Iran-related trade, allowing Iraq to continue importing Iranian electricity and gas while it finds alternative sources.
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.
In July protests against inadequate supplies of jobs, water and electricity swept across southern Iraq, reaching Baghdad. The ruling elites should heed demonstrators’ calls to improve public services and stamp out corruption – or risk reigniting popular discontent and tempting would-be strongmen to step in.
A struggle looms in Iraq over the future of paramilitary groups assembled to help the state defeat ISIS. These units remain under arms and autonomous. Baghdad should strengthen the interior and defence ministries so they can absorb the paramilitaries now undercutting the state’s authority.
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.
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.
The administration just slashed the number of refugees the U.S. will admit to a record low. Its reasoning doesn’t pass the laugh test.
Originally published in Politico
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.