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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

Deteriorated Situation

Conflict Risk Alert

Anti-govt protests erupted in capital Baghdad and southern provinces leading to violent crackdown on protesters that left at least 250 dead and 8,000 wounded; violence and political instability could rise further in Nov. After demotion of iconic general stirred anger late Sept, protesters 1 Oct took to streets in Baghdad calling for jobs, improved public services and end to corruption. Security forces’ violent attempts to disperse protests, including with live ammunition, caused protests to swell and spread to southern provinces. Before unrest subsided 7 Oct clashes left 149 protesters and eight members of security forces dead. PM Mahdi 9 Oct announced measures including cabinet reshuffle, punishment of corrupt officials, job creation schemes and stipends for poor. Highest Shiite authority Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani 11 Oct denounced repression and called on govt to investigate; Mahdi next day launched commission of inquiry, which 22 Oct blamed security officials for losing control of forces; govt same day fired 44 army and police commanders. Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr 19 Oct expressed support for protests and called on govt to resign. Protesters 25 Oct returned to streets in Baghdad and southern provinces calling, among other things, for Mahdi to resign. Further clashes left scores killed and wounded; notably in Karbala, about 100km south of Baghdad, security forces 29 Oct sought to disperse crowds violently leaving at least fourteen dead. Explosion at weapons depot near Baghdad reportedly linked to Iran-backed paramilitaries 14 Oct injured twelve security force members. Unclaimed rocket strike on Baghdad’s Green Zone 30 Oct killed one soldier. U.S. 17 Oct renewed sanctions waiver allowing Iraq to continue importing Iranian energy for 120 more days. Islamic State attack in Salah al-Din province 21 Oct left two dead. U.S. 20 Oct said it would move forces it withdrew from Syria to western Iraq; Iraqi military 22 Oct said U.S. troops did not have permission to stay. In north, Turkish airstrikes 1-15 Oct left five PKK members dead.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

6 Nov 2019
[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. Washington Post

Maria Fantappie

Senior Adviser, Iraq (Consulting)
4 Oct 2019
As protests continue to rage across Iraq, both government *and* civic leaders are responsible for charting a way forward and averting new violence. Twitter

Maria Fantappie

Senior Adviser, Iraq (Consulting)
18 Aug 2019
[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. Financial Times

Maria Fantappie

Senior Adviser, Iraq (Consulting)
15 Jul 2018
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. The Telegraph

Joost Hiltermann

Program Director, Middle East and North Africa
15 May 2018
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. Financial Times

Joost Hiltermann

Program Director, Middle East and North Africa
18 Feb 2018
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 Arab Weekly

Elizabeth Dickinson

Senior Analyst, Colombia

Latest Updates

Assessing the Fatalities in Turkey’s PKK Conflict

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.

After Iraqi Kurdistan’s Thwarted Independence Bid

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.  

Also available in العربية, Kurdî

A New Generation of Activists Circumvents Iraq’s Political Paralysis

Researching the talks on forming a new Iraqi ruling coalition, our Senior Adviser for Iraq Maria Fantappie finds a country whose youth, women, civil society, officials and even politicians are hungry for bottom-up change to a stalemated, top-down system of governance. 

Also available in العربية

‘Jihadi bride’ doesn’t fit: we need a new language for female militants

Tabloid sensationalism about Shamima Begum flattens important debates about how much agency these women have.

Originally published in The Guardian

Picturing Baghdad

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.

Our People

Maria Fantappie

Senior Adviser, Iraq (Consulting)