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.
As war rages in Gaza, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to escalate, causing grievous harm to civilians and threatening stability across the Middle East. Crisis Group experts offer a 360-degree view of how various capitals in the region view this crisis and their own interests therein.
U.S. launched first deadly strikes on Iran-backed militias after facing dozens of attacks since Israel-Hamas war; Supreme Court removed Parliament Speaker amid forgery scandal.
U.S. forces struck Iran-backed militias in first airstrikes since Israel-Hamas war. U.S. as of 29 Nov tallied around 74 attacks against its forces in Iraq and Syria since 17 Oct – of which approximately half occurred in Iraq – that injured around 60 personnel. Notably, two drone attacks 9 Nov targeted Ain al-Asad airbase, Anbar governorate, and al-Harir airbase, Erbil governorate. IED same day struck U.S.-led coalition convoy near Mosul Dam. Two drones 20 Nov targeted Harir air base in Erbil. Close-range ballistic missile 20 Nov struck Ain al-Asad airbase, injuring eight, which prompted U.S. to use airborne gunship to respond, killing at least one alleged militant of Kata’ib Hizbollah – associated with Iran-backed umbrella group Islamic Resistance in Iraq. In further escalation, U.S. 21 Nov carried out second series of airstrikes, killing eight Kata’ib Hizbollah members in Jurf al-Sakhar area; group vowed retaliation. While pace of attacks on U.S. declined as Gaza truce took effect late Nov (see Israel-Palestine), further attacks claiming significant casualties could trigger escalatory spiral toward wider conflict.
Federal Supreme Court suspended Parliament Speaker. Supreme Court 14 Nov terminated Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi’s tenure following accusations that he forged resignation letter of MP from Halbousi’s Taqqadum party, Layth al-Dulaimi, who was also suspended; Sunni parties are expected to appoint new speaker before Dec provincial elections. In response, Taqqadum party same day announced resignation of three govt ministers and boycott of parliament; PM Sudani 20 Nov rejected resignations. In separate case, Halbousi faces investigation for alleged relations with company tied to former Israeli PM Ehud Barak, illegal under anti-normalisation law.
In other important developments. Islamic State (ISIS) bomb and gun attack 30 Nov killed eleven civilians in Muqdadiyah city, Diyala province. Türkiye 13 and 17 Nov claimed operations killed total nineteen PKK members and its intelligence services 17 and 20 Nov reportedly eliminated senior PKK members; PKK attack 26 Nov killed three Turkish soldiers. Unknown gunmen 20 Nov reportedly attacked office of Kurdish politician Shakhawan Abdullah in Kirkuk city.
Installing a monarchy that wasn’t very popular and that was overthrown in 1958 was the ignition for the many problems that the modern Iraqi state has faced.
The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq infused the country’s Kurds with renewed hope of loosening the bonds that tie them to Baghdad. But subsequent events have dampened that spirit. Despite considerable progress toward autonomy, the historical Kurdish predicament endures.
The core lesson of the 2003 Iraq war is that ruptures in autocratic settings are inherently fraught with risk. Policymakers should approach proposed interventions in such settings with caution.
The architects of the 2003 invasion of Iraq had grand visions of transforming the Middle East in favour of U.S. interests. Two decades later, it is clear that the venture was a failure not just in that respect, but in most others as well.
Iraq has a new government after months of delay, but various challenges to stability persist. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2023, Crisis Group explains how the EU and its member states can help support necessary reforms.
This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood talks to Crisis Group’s Iraq expert Lahib Higel about the crisis in Iraq, with parties unable to form a government almost a year after elections and the deadliest clashes the Iraqi capital has seen in years erupting in late August.
Demonstrators are occupying parliament in Baghdad, with Iraq’s main political camps deeply divided. The standoff need not turn violent, if the country’s leaders can shift to dialogue with support from foreign partners.
Sinjar has yet to recover from the ravages of 2014, when ISIS subjected the population to unrelenting terror. Thousands remain displaced. To persuade them to return, the Iraqi federal and Kurdish regional governments will need help from the current residents in improving governance and security.
Turkey is increasingly relying on airpower in its fight against the PKK. New parties have been drawn into the conflict as it spreads to new theatres in Iraq and Syria, which, for now at least, complicates potential efforts to settle things down.
Though it did not produce fundamental change, the October voting in Iraq did upset the balance of power in parliament. The most likely outcome is a coalition that can sustain the political status quo but perhaps not the social peace.
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