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.
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.
Parliament passed budget to expand public employment and resolve oil spat with Erbil, Türkiye struck Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in north and Islamic State (ISIS) maintained low-level insurgency.
Parliament passed controversial federal budget. Against International Monetary Fund’s advice for tighter fiscal policy, parliament 12 June passed record-large budget, which relies almost exclusively on hydrocarbon exports and adds 700,000 new public employees in response to youth-led protests over unemployment. Notably, budget outlined new revenue-sharing mechanism for oil exports between federal govt and Kurdistan Regional Govt (KRG) that resolves a main sticking point between pair; arrangement guarantees Erbil 12.7% share of federal expenditures and increases its allocation of public salaries and pensions; KRG’s allocated budget is estimated to increase by 30%. Govt 19 June met Turkish energy delegation in capital Baghdad to discuss resumption of oil exports after Ankara paused them following international arbitration ruling. Over 50 MPs in Kurdistan regional parliament late June resigned in protest of Supreme Court’s ruling in May that assembly’s decision taken in Oct to delay elections by year was unconstitutional.
Türkiye struck PKK, which ended unilateral ceasefire in Türkiye. Suspected Turkish drone 1 June hit house in Sinjar district, injuring two PKK-affiliated fighters. After unidentified gunmen 9 June shot dead PKK member in Sulaymaniyah, PKK blamed Turkish intelligence and 10 June declared end to four-month unilateral ceasefire in Türkiye, citing operations against its members (see Türkiye and Syria). Turkish forces 26 June said it “neutralised” four PKK members in north.
Low-scale ISIS insurgency continued. ISIS attack 11 June killed three soldiers and injured four others in Wadi al-Naft, Kirkuk governorate. Iraqi forces conducted anti-ISIS operations throughout month; notably, 2 June killed four suspected ISIS militants in Diyala governorate. Defence Ministry 17 June announced killing four suspected militants in airstrike in Tarmiya district, north of Baghdad. Israeli jets 24 June killed suspected ISIS militants in Al-Rafi’i in Kirkuk governorate.
In other important developments. Govt 20 June announced first local provincial elections since 2013 will be held 18 Dec. Clashes between two rival Iranian Kurdish dissident groups 22 June killed two fighters in Zirgwez, Sulaymaniyah governorate.
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 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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