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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.

CrisisWatch Iraq

Unchanged Situation

Divisions emerged within political factions ahead of Oct elections, security operations targeted Islamic State (ISIS), and intra-Kurdish rivalry boiled over in Kurdistan. Tensions rose within ethno-sectarian political blocs ahead of 10 Oct parliamentary elections. Within Sunni bloc, rivalry between Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi, politician Mohammed al-Kabourli and challenger Khamis al-Khanjar escalated throughout month into acts of sabotage, including removal of campaign advertisement. Among pro-Iran Shia parties, tensions arose between factions of paramilitary coalition Population Mobilisation Forces (PMF), chiefly Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah, which early Aug publicly accused each other of corruption. Hamid al-Yaseri, leader of PMF group Ansar al-Marjaiya, 14 Aug delivered speech describing resistance groups’ loyalty to Iran as “treasonous”. Shiite cleric and leader of largest parliamentary bloc Muqtada al-Sadr 27 Aug reversed July decision to boycott Oct election. In northern Baghdad, security forces 14 Aug launched large-scale anti-ISIS operation, arresting seven suspected ISIS members, and next day killed ISIS leader Mustafa Hassan Ismail. In Diyala province, security forces 18 Aug arrested three suspected ISIS members for attack on power lines. PM Kadhimi 23 Aug announced second operation in Tarimyah town, north of Baghdad. In Kurdistan region, infighting within prominent political faction escalated. Co-chair of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Bafel Talabani 2 Aug issued decision to expel his cousin and co-chair Lahur Talabani from Iraq, in move that escalated July power struggle between two leaders; Lahur 3 Aug declared authorities had issued warrant for his arrest and said he had no intention of leaving, raising prospect of clash between Peshmerga brigades under each leader’s command. President Barham Salih 3 Aug intervened to mediate, alleviating tensions. Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) 12 Aug conducted mortar attack on Turkish military base in northern Iraq, killing one Turkish soldier; reported Turkish drone and airstrikes 16-17 Aug around Sinjar district targeting PKK-linked Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) and medical clinic killed at least ten people, including civilians and senior YBS member Said Hassan. Internationally, govt 28 Aug hosted regional summit with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, the Emirates and some European countries to discuss avenues for cooperation, especially on economy and energy.
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Reports & Briefings

In The News

2 Jun 2021
Successive [Iraqi] governments since the military victory over ISIS have failed to integrate the PMF. It has become a force in itself, pursuing its own interests. Al Jazeera

Lahib Higel

Senior Analyst, Iraq
12 Dec 2020
In comparison to previous protests [in Iraq's Kurdish north] these are significant as the current fiscal crisis affects larger swaths of the population. The Washington Post

Lahib Higel

Senior Analyst, Iraq
27 Sep 2020
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. The Washington Post

Lahib Higel

Senior Analyst, Iraq
4 Sep 2020
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. New Delhi Times

Berkay Mandıracı

Analyst, Turkey
30 Mar 2020
If the United States is forced out of Iraq in an ugly, contentious fashion, it could poison the bilateral relationship. (Quoted with Maria Fantappie) War on the Rocks

Sam Heller

Former Adviser, Non-state Armed Groups
10 Jan 2020
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. New York Times

Joost Hiltermann

Program Director, Middle East and North Africa

Latest Updates

Hundreds of Thousands of Iraqis Are Still Internally Displaced

A short illustrated look at the story of Iraq's internal displacement crisis.

Exiles in Their Own Country: Dealing with Displacement in Post-ISIS Iraq

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.

Also available in العربية

Iraq: Fixing Security in Kirkuk

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.

Also available in العربية

When Measuring ISIS’s “Resurgence”, Use the Right Standard

Memories of the Islamic State’s 2014-2015 “caliphate” peak in Iraq and Syria colour views of its present capacity, leading officials and observers either to exaggerate or understate its threat. In Iraq, the group does pose a danger. Gauging it properly is key to containing it.

Also available in العربية

On Third Try, a New Government for Iraq

The new Iraqi prime minister has several daunting tasks. Not only must he navigate the politics that delayed his cabinet’s formation, but he must also deal with plummeting state revenues, simmering public discontent and – last but hardly least – rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Our People

Lahib Higel

Senior Analyst, Iraq