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 »

Five years ago, Islamic State fighters invaded my ancestral homeland of Sinjar, Iraq, and waged a systematic ethnic-cleansing campaign against the Yazidi community. Their campaign included mass executions, forced religious conversions and widespread sexual violence. These attacks resulted in the massacre of aaa men, women and children; the enslavement of nearly 7,000 Yazidis; and displacement of more than 400,000 Yazidis to camps in northern Iraq.

But that was not the end of our suffering. As Sheri P. Rosenberg observed in a 2012 article, genocide is a process, not an event. The continued suffering, fear and uncertainty in the Yazidi community show that the genocide process is ongoing.…  Seguir leyendo »

An Iraqi man walks with a national flag past security forces outside the Basra local government headquarters on 19 July, 2019 as protesters gather for a demonstration against corruption, unemployment and lack of public services. Photo: Getty Images

Over the past few summers, as scorching heat meets a growing dissatisfaction with their government’s inability to provide basic services and employment, Iraqis have taken to the streets to protest. These demonstrations have occurred primarily in southern Iraq and in Baghdad, where violence has been relatively contained for several years now. To many Iraqis, protest is the only voice they have left. They view the formal political and electoral process as just reinforcing the same elites who have repeatedly failed them since the U.S. invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Last summer’s protests in Basra, however, altered the dynamics of these public outcries.…  Seguir leyendo »

After 16 years of upheaval in Iraq and five brutal years of war with the Islamic State terrorist group, a foe that imperiled all of humanity, we are embarking on a new journey toward building a stronger Kurdistan. The next four years will be a defining time for us, our neighbors and our allies in which we, the Kurdistan Regional Government, look past our recent traumas, consolidate our place in the region and secure a presence on the international stage. In short, we want to make a new start.

Last week, I formed a government to lead the Kurdistan region of Iraq.…  Seguir leyendo »

Foreign policy magazines and journals covering international relations often depict Iraq as a “battleground” for foreign interests – mainly those of the United States and Iran. But the country’s military and political realities suggest that Iraq should be seen as a “buffer state”. Defining Iraq accurately is important, because such definitions condition the different approaches to the country: an external power may wish either to mitigate the destructive policies of other actors, or to conduct general relations with a state in which foreign interests need to be balanced.

The definition of a buffer state is hard to agree on. In Michael G.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Muqtada al-Sadr mobile phone cover for sale in a Baghdad market. Photo: Getty Images.

State weakness and protracted conflict continue to plague Iraq and Libya. A breakdown of the unitary state, competition for power and influence, and the absence of a social contract all continue to drive conflict, while allowing a proliferation of local armed groups to flourish.

Yet while such groups in both countries are often viewed solely as security actors, many of them are better considered as ‘hybrid’ networks that also span the political, economic and social spheres. Western policies to mitigate the threats presented by these groups must therefore extend beyond security-based interventions to necessarily inclusive and political approaches focusing on accountability as a route to peace.…  Seguir leyendo »

En l’espace d’une courte semaine, une dizaine de jihadistes français, membres de l’organisation Etat islamique, depuis peu réduite en lambeaux dans son foyer moyen-oriental, étaient condamnés à la peine capitale par la justice irakienne. «Procès expéditifs», «système d’abattage», «simulacre de justice», «immense déshonneur», «tache indélébile» : les réactions diverses à ce que le gouvernement qualifie pour sa part de jugements «équitables» ne se faisaient pas attendre du côté de la défense (organisations des droits de l’homme, activistes, avocats), ce pendant qu’une partie non négligeable de l’opinion publique semblait y voir l’exercice d’une justice populaire certes sauvage, mais ne faisant en définitive que répondre à la barbarie même des terroristes et à l’application méthodique par ces derniers de la «loi du talion».…  Seguir leyendo »

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. Photo: Getty Images.

Tensions have again flared between the US and Iran. The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, followed by Tehran’s warnings of resuming its nuclear programme, have revived a crisis that spans several decades.

Within the Trump administration, influential leaders – including National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – seem to be steering the US into conflict with Iran.

This conflict has never been a direct confrontation, instead mainly featuring in countries across the Middle East. Iraq has been the most cherished prize for both sides. Recently citing an increased threat, the US evacuated all non-essential staff from Iraq.…  Seguir leyendo »

A memorial bracelet that Ackerman wore to honor a fallen comrade.CreditFred R. Conrad for The New York Times

This is the 15th Memorial Day since the battle of Falluja in late 2004, in which 82 American service members died. The battle was a key operation at the outset of the Iraq War and resulted in the fiercest urban combat since the battle for Hue in Vietnam in 1968.

I fought in that battle in Iraq, leading First Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment, and two years later, on a clear January day in Camp Lejeune, I was awarded a medal. My entire family came for the occasion. Our infantry battalion stood in formation while the adjutant for the Second Marine Division read a citation.…  Seguir leyendo »