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Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani speaks to press in Baghdad, Iraq on 27 November 2022. Photo by Iraqi Government Press Office/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

After nearly a year of political gridlock and violence, Iraq has a new government and a new prime minister, Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani. Sudani has made several reform pledges, including creating tens of thousands of new jobs and tackling rampant corruption. His predecessors all made similar promises, but ultimately failed to deliver. Can Sudani chart a different path, or will he repeat their mistakes?

He takes office at a time when many Iraqis feel disenfranchised. In the almost 20 years since regime change, Iraq’s elite have steadily lost economic and ideological power. The country’s economic decline and a growing youth population have put a strain on the system.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iraqi populist leader Muqtada al-Sadr delivering a speech in Najaf, Iraq, August 2022. Alaa Al-Marjani / Reuters

On August 29, the Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced that he would withdraw from politics after months of failed attempts to form a new government. Thousands of supporters of the nationalist leader, who has emerged as a staunch opponent of Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, surged into the streets in anger, clashing with Iraqi security forces, breaching concrete barriers around Baghdad’s Green Zone, and storming the seat of government. After dozens of people were killed, Sadr went on television and instructed his supporters to go home, easing—for the moment, at least—a political crisis that has paralyzed Iraq’s caretaker government for months.…  Seguir leyendo »

A supporter of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr lifts a placard depicting him during a a collective Friday prayer in Sadr City, east of Baghdad on 15 July 2022. Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images.

Following their shock victory in the 2021 elections, the Sadrists claimed they were poised to push Iraq towards a new type of politics. But after nine months of failing to form a government, their leader, populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, has seemingly given up and withdrawn from the government formation process. Instead, he called for mass protests, sent his followers to invade and occupy parliament, and demanded another election. In response, his opponents, Nouri al-Maliki and the Iran-aligned Popular Mobilization Forces, sent loyalists to Baghdad’s Green Zone, risking conflict between the two heavily armed sides.

Although it is still unlikely this will lead to a Shia civil war, there are increasing concerns about the lengths Sadr is willing go to.…  Seguir leyendo »

A youth stands on the bank of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, as flare stacks burn in the eponymous oil field and installation across the water, in Basra governorate, Iraq, on 5 December 2021. Photo: HUSSEIN FALEH/AFP via Getty Images.

As Iraq’s political stalemate persists, many observers expect protests will erupt over the country’s worsening socio-economic situation, the increasing effects of climate change – such as heat waves and dust storms – and a lack of political will to change the status quo. The young people who played a crucial role in previous protests have once again been excluded from critical debates.

While Iraq has not witnessed mass protests following early elections in 2021, the protest movement is not dead. Rather, young activists are seeking to establish their own spaces and challenge the system in different ways. ‘The present political elite look at youth as either tools or rivals, not as partners’, stated a participant at a recent Baghdad workshop organized by the Chatham House Iraq Initiative in partnership with Al-Bayan Centre.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iraqis wait at the department of emergency in Baghdad's Sadr City Imam Ali hospital on 2 February 2019. Photo by SABAH ARAR/AFP via Getty Images.

Last November, the head of the Iraqi Medical Association, Jassim al-Azzawi, stated that his team was making progress on digitized pharmaceutical prescriptions. This assertion may sound strangely mundane considering the many challenges facing Iraq’s healthcare system. But handwritten medical prescriptions have for years been a point of contention in the country.

Some doctors use handwritten coding systems when prescribing medications, scripts illegible to everyone but the pharmacists with whom the prescribing doctor has a partnership. Prescription in hand, patients are directed to the doctor’s chosen pharmacy – and the only pharmacist able to interpret the scribbled code.

Labelled ‘dealer doctors’ by some in the industry, these doctors negotiate incentives for carrying particular drugs hawked by pharmaceutical representatives, such as cash payments per unit sold.…  Seguir leyendo »

The plenary session of Iraq's new parliament in Baghdad, held three months after the October 2021 parliamentary elections. Photo by Iraqi Parliament Press Office/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

Iraq’s newly-elected MPs recently gathered for the first time, three months after an election in which an alternative new generation of independents and protest parties won dozens of seats in parliament. This new cohort have the potential to gradually reform the political system, but must work towards forging a unified strategy if they are to effect change.

Early statements from some of these ‘alternative MPs’, who combined represent more than 70 seats, indicated a desire to form a unified coalition, but such an alliance has been difficult to forge.

Even before the October 2021 elections, divisions in tactics emerged amongst disillusioned Iraqis who had taken part in popular protests in 2019-20.…  Seguir leyendo »

Why Are American Troops Still in Iraq?

U.S. troops in Iraq quietly thwarted two separate drone attacks on bases hosting American soldiers in the first week of 2022. The attacks, attributed to Iraqi Shiite militias, are no surprise: America’s presence in Iraq is increasingly unwelcome. More attacks are bound to come as long as the Biden administration decides to keep forces there. With each passing day, the risk of a deadly attack increases.

And for what?

The presence of U.S. troops won’t stop terrorist attacks from happening and they can’t contain Iran, which has cemented its hold on some Iraqi military institutions since 2003. American soldiers are likely to die in vain because, just as in Afghanistan, they have been given the impossible task of acting as an ephemeral thumb on the scale of a foreign country’s politics.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi poses in his office during an interview with the Associated Press in Baghdad on July 23. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed, File)

Even by the brutal political rules of Baghdad, the recent attempt to assassinate Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi appears to have shocked many Iraqis — and undermined the Iranian-sponsored militias who had been trying to drive him from power.

The “cowardly” attack, as Kadhimi described it, has been condemned by the United Nations, the Biden administration, a wide range of Iraqi politicians — and even Iran, a prime suspect in the strike by three drones early Sunday morning. Two of the drones were shot down, but one hit Kadhimi’s residence, a small villa decorated with modern art where I met with him just a few months ago.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iraqis arrive to cast their vote at a polling station in Baghdad during the 2021 general election. Photo by Murtadha Al-Sudani/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

Several big stories came out of Iraq’s sixth election since the 2003 US-led invasion. The first is low voter turnout which officially at 36 per cent of eligible voters is the lowest recorded in the country’s post-2003 electoral history. With many Iraqis disillusioned with a political system which entrenches a corrupt political elite at their expense, this was expected, reflecting a trajectory of fewer Iraqis voting in each election.

More surprising is the relative success of Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement, which increased its seat tally from 54 in 2018 to 73 according to preliminary results, while its main rival from the previous election Fateh – which represents the Popular Mobilization Forces – saw a decrease from 48 to only 16.…  Seguir leyendo »

An Iraqi independent candidate prepares to hang his own electoral poster in the Najaf. Photo by ALI NAJAFI/AFP via Getty Images.

On October 10, Iraqis head to the polls in their country’s sixth election since regime change in 2003. Despite the promises of democracy, many Iraqis have become disillusioned with their political system, which deprives them of basic services and fundamental standards of living.

Many disillusioned Iraqis tried to bring about change through protests in October 2019. They believed their voice could be heard louder through mass demonstrations, instead of elections that only reinforced their corrupt political system.

Their demands were to put an end to the political elite’s institutionalized corruption, and many asked for a change in government through early elections in a safe and fair atmosphere.…  Seguir leyendo »

Tishreen protester holds an Iraqi flag in Tayaran Square. Baghdad, 19 January 2020. PHOTOGRAPHER/Ali Dab Dab

What’s at stake in Iraq’s elections on 10 October? 

These elections are the first test of Iraq’s political institutions since countrywide protests paralysed the country in 2019-2020. Those protests forced the government elected in 2018 to step down and pass a new elections law, which brought the polls originally planned for 2022 forward by six months. The so-called Tishreen (October) protests were a serious warning that the ruling parties and political system face a growing legitimacy crisis. If the balloting unfolds in a free and fair manner, without major violence, it may restore a degree of confidence in electoral democracy. Ideally, the vote would produce a new government empowered to tackle the country’s enormous socio-economic challenges head on, but that outcome is unlikely.…  Seguir leyendo »

An Iraqi man registers to obtain his voting cards ahead of the parliamentary elections, in Najaf, September 2021. Photo by Ali NAJAFI / AFP) (Photo by ALI NAJAFI/AFP via Getty Images.

For many Western and Iraqi policymakers, parliamentary elections are essential to Iraq’s fledgling but critical transition to democracy. But in Iraq’s first free election in 2005, turnout was almost 80 per cent. Since then, the figure has declined.

In the most recent elections in 2018, the official turnout was 44 per cent of registered voters, though most observers and even some officials acknowledge it was probably much lower, possibly less than 30 per cent. Iraqis do not feel that elections represent a channel for their voices or an instrument for change.

To express their despair, protesters in October 2019 began sitting in city squares in Baghdad and in the south.…  Seguir leyendo »

A car burns outside the UN headquarters at the Canal Hotel after a huge suicide truck bomb explosion rocked the building. Baghdad, Iraq, September 2003. AFP PHOTO/Sabah ARAR

My friend Arthur telephoned me one summer morning in 2003, when I had just returned from Iraq, which had fallen into U.S. hands that April. Arthur was head of the refugee program at the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights. A decade earlier, he and I had travelled together to Iraq, Iran and Turkey to investigate the refugee crisis in the wake of the 1990-1991 Gulf War. Now, he said, he wanted to go to Baghdad for meetings about addressing the new war’s human cost. He asked me if he should bring a bulletproof vest. We at Crisis Group had raised the alarm about an incipient insurgency in Iraq, based on my observations during two visits since the U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

Thoughts and prayers. Promises of "never again." They are not enough. Seven years after ISIS committed genocide against the Yazidi community, my ethno-religious minority, in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of people remain internally displaced and more than 2,800 women and children remain missing. Shelter, clean water, health care and education are luxuries, if available at all.

Those of us who were there -- who ran for our lives to the protection of Mount Sinjar, who heard the gunshots as men and older women were shot and dumped into mass graves, and who, like me, were sold into sexual slavery -- cannot forget what happened or how the world ignored our cries for help.…  Seguir leyendo »

A portion of the Epic of Gilgamesh, shown July 28, which had been taken from Iraq and sold for $1.6 million to Hobby Lobby for display in the Museum of the Bible. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement/AP)

In late July, 17,000 potentially looted antiquities were returned to Iraq from the United States. Most came from the vast collection of Middle Eastern artifacts that Hobby Lobby President Steve Green had acquired for the Museum of the Bible in Washington. The saga of the mogul’s collection illustrates how dabbling in the gray market for antiquities has become riskier, thanks to fundamental changes in the laws, norms and institutions regulating the trade in stolen and looted art over the past three decades.

It used to be simple to collect gray-market artifacts

Green started his collection in 2009. At first, he was looking only for a few objects related to the Bible, but word quickly got around about a new billionaire collector.…  Seguir leyendo »

Deserted ruins in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar. (Samya Kullab/AP)

On Aug. 3, the world marks the seventh anniversary of the mass murder of Yazidis by the forces of the Islamic State — a crime that has been recognized as a genocide by a number of international institutions. Last month, the Belgian and Netherlands parliaments adopted recognition resolutions, and earlier this year, a United Nations team concluded that the atrocities committed against the Yazidis constituted a genocide. These positive developments have renewed Yazidis’ hope that the international community — which did little to prevent the massacre of our people starting in August 2014 — remains committed to our survival.

Yet we still face a number of pressing issues.…  Seguir leyendo »

A portion of the "Epic of Gilgamesh," which was looted from Iraq and sold for $1.6 million to Hobby Lobby for display in the Museum of the Bible, on July 28. (AP)

This week, a 3,500-year-old clay tablet containing a portion of the “Epic of Gilgamesh” — one of the world’s oldest surviving pieces of literature — was forfeited by Hobby Lobby to the Justice Department. The tablet constitutes one of more than 17,000 artifacts and treasures that are said to be returning to Iraq soon. This is refreshing news for those of us who have documented and pursued Iraq’s lost heritage. Unfortunately, this rare incident should not obscure the fact that Iraq was, and continues to be, looted and stolen from with few, if any, consequences.

More than 18 years since the invasion of Iraq, the country is still in disarray — and much of its cultural patrimony is still missing.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iraqis demonstrate to demand that authorities hold accountable the killers of dozens of activists associated with a long-running protest movement. (Asaad Niazi/AFP/Getty Images)

For many Iraqis, it has been a summer of tragedy. Last week, a fire tore through the covid-19 isolation ward at a hospital in the southern city of Nasiriya, killing 60 people. Months earlier, a similar fire in a Baghdad hospital intensive care unit killed 82 covid patients.

The summer has also featured temperatures rising above 120 degrees at a time when the government is failing to provide the electricity needed for people to cope. These hospital fires and electricity cuts have prompted angry protests — and many Iraqis see government corruption and mismanagement as the root of their suffering.

This summer will be followed by an election, Iraq’s sixth since the U.S.-led…  Seguir leyendo »

An Iraqi protester carries a plascard reading in Arabic "Who killed me?" in Baghdad during an anti-government demonstration against a wave of assassinations on May 25. (Ahmed Jalil/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Once more, Baghdad is under siege. This time, rather than ISIS being at the gates, as they were in 2014, it is those who played the role of foot soldiers in the campaign to defeat the Islamic State that are threatening the very existence of the Iraqi state.

This week, less than five months before the nation is due to elect its new leaders, Shiite militias loyal to Iran besieged the Green Zone, Baghdad’s heavily fortified diplomatic quarter, demanding the federal authorities release one of their commanders who was arrested on terrorism charges. The fact that Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi is under immense pressure to capitulate to these demands in the midst of a mass demonstration against militia impunity is a clear indication that Iraq is being held hostage by a transnational Shiite jihadist network commanded and controlled from Iran.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fouad Hussein holds a joint press conference with his counterparts, Jordan's Ayman Safadi (L) and Egypt's Sameh Shoukry, at the ministry in the capital Baghdad, on 29 March 2021. Photo by SABAH ARAR/AFP via Getty Images.

Alliances in the Middle East come and go, often shaped and determined by regional competition and international intervention. The past few years have seen the normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel, the reconciliation between the GCC states following a four-year rift, and the once-strong Saudi-UAE partnership, built on close ties between crown princes Mohammed bin Zayed and Mohammed bin Salman, come under pressure.

An emerging regional alliance worth watching is that of Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, which brings together the region's 'odd fellows'. Egypt has lost its place as the region's so-called centre of gravity, Jordan was sidelined during the Trump era and has since, arguably, lost its unique selling point as an interlocutor for peace to the UAE and Bahrain, while Iraq left the Arab fold long ago.…  Seguir leyendo »