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.
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.
Tensions between Iraq and Turkey heightened, attacks on activists and U.S. assets increased, and violence involving Islamic State (ISIS) continued. In northern Iraq, amid ongoing Turkish operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Turkish airstrike 11 Aug reportedly killed two Iraqi army officers and several PKK militants; President Salih same day said attack violated Iraqi sovereignty and called for immediate end to “these acts of aggression”. Turkey 13 Aug said it would continue its anti-PKK operations if Baghdad continued to “overlook” PKK presence in Iraq; PKK 17 Aug announced it had shot down Turkish helicopter. In Basra province, unidentified gunmen 14 Aug killed activist sparking three days of demonstrations; PM Kadhimi 17 Aug fired two senior Basra security officials and ordered investigation into violence targeting activists; in Dhi Qar province, unidentified gunmen opened fire 17 Aug on three other activists, and gunmen 19 Aug killed one more activist, prompting demonstrations 21 Aug calling for resignation of Basra governor, clashes with security forces ensued. In Dhi Qar province, protesters 22 Aug destroyed offices of Shiite political parties after bombing at anti-govt camp that injured 11. Attacks on U.S. assets intensified: unidentified assailants 5-30 Aug launched numerous rocket and IED attacks targeting facilities hosting U.S. personnel and supply convoys of U.S.-led coalition. In Washington, during second round of U.S.-Iraq “strategic dialogue”, Iraq 19 Aug committed to protect coalition forces and signed agreements with U.S. firms worth $8bn aimed at reducing Baghdad’s energy dependence on Iran; Kadhimi 20 Aug met U.S. President Trump who said U.S. forces would leave Iraq “shortly” but warned that “if Iran should do anything” in Iraq, U.S. would intervene. Meanwhile, ISIS militants 5-30 Aug killed at least 30 in Salah al-Din, Diyala, Kirkuk and Anbar provinces; anti-ISIS operations 4-26 Aug killed at least 29 militants in Kirkuk, Erbil and Nineveh provinces. Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and federal govt 15 Aug signed agreement under which Baghdad will pay KRG $268mn per month for three months in return for 50% of customs revenues from KRG territories.
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.
Once again, the Islamic State may be poised to recover from defeat in its original bases of Iraq and Syria. It is still possible, however, for the jihadist group’s many foes to nip its regrowth in the bud.
Should U.S.-Iranian tensions escalate to a shooting war, Iraq would likely be the first battleground. Washington and Tehran should stop trying to drag Baghdad into their fight. The Iraqi government should redouble its efforts to remain neutral and safeguard the country’s post-ISIS recovery.
Backlash to the 2017 independence referendum bolstered family rule within Iraq’s two main Kurdish parties. Internal democracy has eroded; ties between the parties have frayed. Only strong institutions in Erbil and renewed inter-party cooperation can help Iraqi Kurdistan to reach a sustainable settlement with Baghdad on outstanding issues.
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.
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.
If the United States is forced out of Iraq in an ugly, contentious fashion, it could poison the bilateral relationship. (Quoted with Maria Fantappie)
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.
[Iraqi] people make a direct connection between the failure and the corruption of the Shia political establishment, both politicians and some clerics, and the Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs.
As protests continue to rage across Iraq, both government *and* civic leaders are responsible for charting a way forward and averting new violence.
[A rocket attack on Baghdad's Green Zone] was a way to test the limits of the Americans. Whoever did it is aware that the red line for the Trump administration is bloodshed.
A new wave of popular protests has jolted an already deeply unsettled Arab world. Nine years ago, uprisings across the region signalled a rejection of corrupt autocratic rule that failed to deliver jobs, basic services and reliable infrastructure. Yet regime repression and the protests’ lack of organisation, leadership and unified vision thwarted hopes of a new order. As suddenly as the uprisings erupted, as quickly they descended into violence. What followed was either brutal civil war or regime retrenchment. Tunisia stands as the sole, still fragile, exception.
Originally published in Valdai Club
Turkey’s ruling party sees recent battlefield and electoral gains as vindicating its hardline policies toward the PKK. But these same policies fuel the Kurdish grievances that keep the fighting going. Ankara would thus be wise to consider exploring ways of winding down the destructive conflict.
A surge in street protests in Iraq has left some 110 people dead and exposed a rift between the government and a population frustrated by poor governance, inadequate services and miserable living conditions. To avert further violence, the authorities and protesters should open dialogue channels.