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Source: Survey conducted by Al Mustakilla for Research (IIACSS) in July and August 2020, commissioned by Chatham House

As Iraq seeks to manage its worst fiscal crisis in almost three decades, tensions between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) are once again on the rise. Not for the first time, the dispute is over Baghdad’s conditions for the transfer of budget funds to the KRG in Erbil.

At its heart, the battle is constitutional. Ever since Saddam Hussein’s regime was ousted in 2003, there has been disagreement over how political power should be shared. On finances, hydrocarbons, defence, and a number of other issues, both Baghdad and Erbil has claimed competent authority at the expense of the other.…  Seguir leyendo »

An Iraqi woman shows photographs in May 2003 of her two sons, thought to be killed during late president Saddam Hussein’s rule. A trove of Hussein-era files has been returned to Iraq, prompting some to hope of learning the fate of long-lost relatives. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

On Aug. 31, the United States returned a final batch of Baath Party archives to Iraq. These documents detail the inner workings of the party that ruled Iraq from the 1960s until 2003, when a U.S.-led coalition invaded and deposed longtime dictator Saddam Hussein. Coalition forces removed these papers from Iraq in 2005, and the archives eventually ended up at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute.

What makes these documents so important — and a source of controversy? They detail the crimes of an authoritarian state, from the collaborations of citizens to the predations of state officials. My research demonstrates how these crimes affected historic institutions, including the Shi’a religious establishment, in peacebuilding post-2003.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iraqi students pose for selfies with a member of the security forces during anti-government protests in Diwaniyah. Photo by HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP via Getty Images.

After the drone assassinations of senior Iraqi politician Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Iranian general Qassim Soleimani, Washington hopes that agreeing issues of mutual economic interest will result in Iraqi calls for immediate troop withdraw to disappear.

But the hype surrounding these talks overlooks profound problems in the relationship. US foreign policy under Donald Trump is frankly incoherent and, beyond the bluster, focused on reducing US commitments across the Middle East, which has led to a rapid decrease in America’s diplomatic presence in Baghdad.

Added to this is that Iran has steadily increased its influence over Iraq’s ruling elite to the point where there is a distinct lack of freedom of action.…  Seguir leyendo »

An Iraqi fighter with the Popular Mobilisation Forces inspects the site of the Islamic State (IS) group attack, May 3, 2020. AFP/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE

On the night of Friday, 1 May, the Islamic State (ISIS) launched one of its most ambitious operations in Iraq in recent memory. Several units of the jihadist group converged on Iraqi paramilitary forces securing a rural section of Salahuddin province, engaging them in an hours-long attack that ended with ten paramilitaries dead. The 1 May assault followed a month in which ISIS had become more direct and aggressive in its attacks on Iraqi security forces.

A military official in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, the U.S.-led multilateral partnership that has supported Iraq’s fight against the group, noted the complexity of the Salahuddin attack and several others that weekend.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iraqi PM-designate Mustafa al-Kadhimi who is at the parliament for vote of confidence in Baghdad, Iraq makes a speech on May 06, 2020. Anadolu Agency via AFP

On 6 May, after five months and two earlier failed attempts, Iraq’s parliament confirmed the – still incomplete – government of the new prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi. The country had been without a functioning government since the resignation of Adil Abdul-Mahdi in late November 2019 following weeks-long mass protests against the ruling elite. Just like his predecessor, Kadhimi will preside over a broad coalition government that must cater to the interests of nearly all the country’s major political forces. He will be highly constrained in his ability to initiate long-overdue reforms, but having so many constituencies to satisfy may help preserve the precarious balance between the U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

A member of Iraqi security forces stands guard behind a yellow line after the government declared curfew due to coronavirus. Photo by Fariq Faraj Mahmood/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

On April 9, Iraqi President Barham Salih gathered the Shia, Kurdish and Sunni political blocs at the presidential palace to task head of intelligence Mustafa al-Kadhimi with forming a government.

Kadhimi is the third prime minister-designate assigned since Prime Minister Adil abd al-Mehdi resigned in November, in the wake of mass protests against government corruption and the country’s ethno-sectarian based political system.

Kadhimi’s two predecessors, Muhammad Tawfiq Allawi and Adnan al-Zurfi, both failed to form a government. This third attempt came as Iraq struggles with repeated crises since October 2019, when the government began responding with deadly force to large-scale mass protests, killing more than 600 and injuring tens of thousands.…  Seguir leyendo »

Punting in the marshes south of the Iraqi city of Ammarah. Photo by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad/Getty Images.

Historically, Iraq lay claim to one of the most abundant water supplies in the Middle East. But the flow of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has reduced by up to 40% since the 1970s, due in part to the actions of neighbouring countries, in particular Turkey, upstream.

Rising temperatures and reduced rainfall due to climate change are also negatively impacting Iraq’s water reserves. Evaporation from dams and reservoirs is estimated to lose the country up to 8 billion cubic metres of water every year.

A threat to peace and stability

Shortages have dried up previously fertile land, increasing poverty in agricultural areas.…  Seguir leyendo »

An anti-government protester passes a defaced picture of Adnan Al-Zurfi, Iraq’s former prime minister-designate, in Baghdad in mid-March. (Hadi Mizban/AP)

On April 9, Iraqi President Barham Salih gathered the Shia, Kurdish and Sunni political blocs at the presidential palace to task head of intelligence Mustafa al-Kadhimi with forming a new government. Kadhimi is the third prime minister-designate assigned since Prime Minister Adil abd al-Mehdi resigned in November, in the wake of mass protests against government corruption and the country’s ethno-sectarian based political system. Kadhimi’s two predecessors, Muhammad Tawfiq Allawi and Adnan al-Zurfi, both failed to form a government.

This third attempt came as Iraq struggles with repeated crises since October 2019, when the government began responding with deadly force to large-scale mass protests, killing over 600 and injuring tens of thousands.…  Seguir leyendo »

Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf in October. Photo: Getty Images.

Following the US strike on Qassem Solaimani and Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis, populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has violently cracked down on youth-led protests in Iraq.

His paramilitaries and ‘blue hats’ –  supposedly created to protect protestors from state and allied parastatal security forces – sought to end the months-long demonstrations by attacking the places where protesters have camped since October. In Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, they successfully captured the famous Turkish restaurant which had become a symbol of Iraq’s ‘October revolution’.

Once the champion of Iraq’s protest movement, Sadr has seemingly changed course and now leads the counter-protests. This reversal has mystified many, from Iraqis who saw Sadr as an ally in their struggle for reform against an impenetrable elite to foreign diplomats who hoped Sadr could help pushback against Iranian influence in Iraq.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘Donald Trump has consistently increased tensions and courted confrontation with Iran.’ Iranians burn a US flag in Tehran on Friday. Photograph: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

The Trump administration’s assassination on Thursday of General Qassem Suleimani could turn out to be its biggest foreign policy blunder. The killing could lead to a war with Iranian proxies across the Middle East, belying Trump’s supposed desire to extricate the US from its endless conflicts. But its most likely immediate effect will be to ratchet up pressure on the Iraqi government to expel US troops from Iraq. And that would mean Iran extending its already substantial influence over Iraqi government and society.

The Trump administration was quick to portray the assassination as a pre-emptive strike, saying Suleimani had been “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”…  Seguir leyendo »

Members of Iraq's pro-Iranian al-Hashd al-Shaabi group and protesters set ablaze a sentry box outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on 31 December 2019. AHmad al-Rubaye/Agence France Presse

For the past three months, a popular uprising has swept Baghdad and the southern governorates of Iraq. Its call for profound institutional reform, chiefly an end to corruption, has galvanised repeated spasms of protest in the past. This time, however, the movement is larger, more widespread and of longer duration. Authorities have met the demonstrations with severe violence, killing more than 450 and injuring thousands. The main perpetrators of the violence are Iran-backed paramilitary groups, part of a larger assembly of “popular mobilisation” forces (al-Hashd al-Shaabi) that legally are integrated into the state apparatus but in reality answer to their own separate command structures.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ahmed Albasheer in costume on the set of the “Albasheer Show.” Credit...Chad Batka for The New York Times

Last week in the studio where he tapes the “Albasheer Show,” Ahmed Albasheer put on a dark presidential hat and a jacket covered in an absurd amount of medals and gold braid, and sat at his desk in an office adorned with the seal of the president of the Republic of Albasheer.

The republic is his invention of course, but Iraqis know what he is mocking. Mr. Albasheer, a 35-year-old journalist, fights for his country with his sense of humor. He has a repertoire of slightly deranged expressions and inspired comic timing, in Arabic (I’m told) and, more surprisingly, in English — a language he didn’t really speak until recently.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iraq Cries Out for Unity

En una época caracterizada por la aparición de numerosos brotes de descontento popular alrededor del mundo, las manifestaciones que han forzado la caída del Gobierno iraquí están pasando relativamente desapercibidas en Occidente. Aunque se estima que la violencia perpetrada por las fuerzas de seguridad iraquís ha acabado ya con la vida de unas 500 personas, las convulsiones que ha experimentado el país en las últimas décadas han sido de tal calado que muchos parecen haberse insensibilizado a ellas. A esto se le añade otra realidad incómoda: a diferencia de lo que ocurre en Venezuela o en Hong Kong, la indignación social en Irak se dirige hacia un régimen cuyo diseño lleva sello occidental.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iraqis have been protesting since early October against the dysfunctional and corrupt political system installed by the United States after the 2003 occupation. Unlike previous waves of protests that began in 2011, this protest was spontaneous and not organized by any party.

The most common and passionate slogan throughout these protests has been, “We want a homeland.” It reflected the anger and alienation Iraqis felt toward a political class beholden to external influence (Iran and the United States) and oblivious to its people’s demands.

The regime’s brutal suppression and killing of peaceful protesters fueled Iraqis’ anger, widening and intensifying the protests and strikes across Iraq.…  Seguir leyendo »

In 2014, Lamya Haji Bashar was a 15-year-old woman in Kocho, a sleepy Yazidi farming village in northern Iraq. On Sunday, August 3, 2014, her life changed forever when ISIS swept through the region.

ISIS fighters killed her neighbors and friends, entire families, women and children. Thousands of Yazidis fell victim to mass executions and disappeared into mass graves. And thousands of Yazidi women and girls were sold into slavery. The UN would later recognize ISIS as the perpetrator of a genocide against the Yazidi community.

Bashar herself was sold as a modern-day slave to ISIS. She escaped and is now sharing the brutal truth of violence against women.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iraq is experiencing a pivotal moment. Protesters, mostly youths, have again taken to the streets in Baghdad and several southern provinces. They initially demanded jobs and an end to corruption. Now they are calling for the resignation of key government figures, the dissolution of parliament and provincial councils, electoral reforms, and a rewrite of the constitution.

In response, the government, including paramilitary groups, has attempted to violently quash the protests. More than 260 protesters have been killed and thousands injured since the start of the protests in early October. These violent reprisals have only inflamed public anger and resulted in the transformation of the protest movement into a self-declared revolution.…  Seguir leyendo »

In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a meeting with thousands of students in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019. Khamenei said his country has outmaneuvered the United States in the four decades since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Iran’s rulers should be watching the chaos breaking out in Iraq carefully because they could be next. Unlike previous outbreaks of violence in Iraq, the current troubles are unrelated to Sunni-Shia problems. The riots include youths and working-class people of all religious confessions. The root cause of the discontent is poor governance by the Shiite ruling elites and the ayatollahs who abate and fund them.

When the United States and its coalition allies toppled the primarily Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003, it was assumed that the majority Shiite population would opt for a democratic form of government, and that is what most Iraqis probably did desire no matter what their religious persuasion might be.…  Seguir leyendo »

Since Oct. 1, Iraq has been roiled by a series of massive demonstrations. The demonstrations are noteworthy not only for their size and persistence but also because of the identity of their main participants: Iraqi Shiites. Shiites, the largest and most powerful segment of Iraqi society, are taking to the streets in large numbers despite violence from security forces — who are working for a government that is dominated by Iraqi Shiites. So, why are Iraqi Shiites coming out so strongly against their “own” government?

The answer to this question lies in the expectations Shiites have had since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime 16 years ago.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protests in Basra on 2 October 2019. Photo: Getty Images.

‘This was one the worst weeks in Iraq’s history. I never thought the government was capable of such crimes,’ exclaimed one civil society activist in Baghdad when describing the protests that ripped through Baghdad and other parts of Iraq from 1 October.

While protests have become frequent events in Baghdad over the past few years, this time was different. For the first time in Baghdad, forces seeking to defend the political system opened fire on demonstrators, killing hundreds and injuring thousands. The same forces, a mixture of official security forces and government-aligned paramilitary groups, also attacked independent media outlets and cut off the internet.…  Seguir leyendo »

Demonstration against corruption in Basra in July. Photo: Getty Images.

In March and April, an extensive opinion poll carried out across Iraq found that the population were only united by very high levels of pessimism about the future of their country. At the centre of their concerns, and the key factor in driving mistrust, is the issue of corruption.

In the poll, 82 per cent of Iraqis were concerned or very concerned about corruption at the highest levels of government; 83 per cent perceived corruption to be getting worse. It appears clear: politically sanctioned corruption among senior politicians and civil servants is systematically undermining popular faith in the Iraqi government and destroying the legitimacy of its leaders in the eyes of the population.…  Seguir leyendo »