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.
Iran-backed armed groups could further escalate attacks on U.S. forces as Israel expands military campaign in Gaza; Türkiye intensified airstrikes on Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Iran-backed groups targeted U.S. after Israel-Hamas war erupted. Following outbreak of war between Hamas and Israel on 7 Oct (see Israel-Palestine), Iran-aligned “resistance groups” – including Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Badr Organization and Kataib Hezbollah – stated readiness to support Palestinians, threatening to strike U.S. assets across region. U.S. 31 Oct revealed its forces in Iraq and Syria had suffered 27 attacks with drones or rockets since 7 Oct, of which sixteen occurred in Iraq and caused minor injuries to personnel; attacks come after months-long period of informal truce. Israeli ground operations in Gaza may fuel further such attacks and prompt calls from Iran-aligned politicians for withdrawal of U.S. troops. Notably, drone attacks 18 Oct targeted U.S. forces at Ain al-Assad airbase, Anbar governorate, and al-Harir airbase, Erbil governorate. Rocket attack next day targeted Ain al-Assad airbase and three Katyusha rockets struck international coalition base near Baghdad airport. Coalition of Sunni insurgent groups Islamic Front for the Iraqi Resistance claimed drone attack on 21 Oct targeting Ain Al-Assad airbase. Meanwhile, thousands 13 Oct responded to calls of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to demonstrate in solidarity with Palestine in capital Baghdad.
Türkiye escalated strikes on PKK targets following Ankara attack. In response to 1 Oct PKK attack in Turkish capital Ankara (see Türkiye), Türkiye escalated attacks targeting PKK in northern Iraq; notably, 1, 3, 4 Oct struck PKK targets along Turkish border, including Metina, Gara, Hakurk, Qandil, and Asos governorates. Turkish FM Hakan Fidan 4 Oct announced all PKK infrastructure, including energy facilities, were “legitimate targets”. Iraqi Kurdish authorities 26 Oct announced ten PKK members were killed in airstrikes in Erbil and Dohuk provinces.
In other important developments. Military and Kurdish Peshmerga forces 22 Oct clashed in dispute over control of strategic military posts previously held by PKK, reportedly in Makhmour district between Erbil and Ninewa governorates, killing four. Iran 2 Oct said Iraq had implemented some parts, but not all, of border security arrangements requiring it to relocate Iranian oppositions groups.
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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