PMU members receiving training in November 2018. Photo: Getty Images.

Earlier this month, Iraq’s paramilitary group raided the home of and arrested one of its own — a prominent and long-time paramilitary leader, Aws al-Khafaji. The Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) — an umbrella organization of about 50 predominantly Shia paramilitary groups — has initiated a crackdown on groups.

The purging reveals an emerging reality in Iraq: the paramilitary groups that fought together against ISIS are competing against each other for power, legitimacy and resources. In this process, the PMU is further institutionalizing by centralizing power over the disparate groups that fall within its umbrella. This competition has profound implications for stability in post-ISIS Iraq — and for how we should understand its emerging state.…  Seguir leyendo » “Iraq’s Paramilitaries Are Turning on Their Own Ranks”

In the summer of 2014 the world’s TV audiences were stunned by pictures of Yazidi families being rescued from Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq. We saw coalition air forces dropping food and the Kurdish PKK saving families after they had been mercilessly attacked by Isis and were fleeing for their lives across the mountains. The men were escaping execution; the women, rape and sexual slavery.

The heroics continued as camps were quickly built to accommodate the Yazidi escapees. In capital cities around the world and at the United Nations, good men and women made inspiring statements about standing with the Yazidi people and protecting them from genocide.…  Seguir leyendo » “The world has let down Yazidis who fled Isis genocide”

Shiite fighters from the Popular Mobilization Units launches missiles on the village of Salmani, south of Mosul, on Oct. 30, 2016, during the battle against Islamic State militants to liberate Mosul. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

Earlier this month, Iraq’s paramilitary group raided the home of and arrested one of its own — a prominent and longtime paramilitary leader, Aws al-Khafaji. The Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) — an umbrella organization of about 50 predominantly Shiite paramilitary groups — has initiated a crackdown on groups.

The purging reveals an emerging reality in Iraq: The paramilitary groups that fought together against the Islamic State are competing against each other for power, legitimacy and resources. In this process, the PMU is further institutionalizing by centralizing power and the disparate groups that fall within its umbrella. This competition has profound implications for stability in post-Islamic State Iraq — and for how we should understand its emerging state.…  Seguir leyendo » “Why are Iraq’s paramilitaries turning on their own ranks?”

West Mosul is slowly coming back to life

Inside a prison in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, vanquished Islamic State fighters who once swept through much of the country now mill about sullenly on a bare, tiled floor, reflecting on a cause they insist will endure. Many spend hours in fierce debate, apparently undeterred by their movement’s apparent military defeat. Their cause, they say, remains divinely ordained. Their capture incidental. “Hathi iradet Allah,” they say. This is God’s will.

A Kurdish guard called for a captive, whom I will call Abu Samya—a brooding Baghdad resident kidnapped first by the Islamic State’s forerunner group, al-Qaeda in Iraq, and later by Shia death squads as sectarian lines hardened in 2006–2007.…  Seguir leyendo » “Undefeated, ISIS Is Back in Iraq”

In a recent interview, an influential Iraqi Shiite cleric and militia leader warned the United States to withdraw its troops from Iraq. The leader, Qais al-Khazali, represents a class of politician preachers who have come to dominate the political scene in post-2003 Iraq. The ascendancy of these clerics raises questions about the role of the Shiite religious establishment in contemporary Iraqi politics.

What is the Shiite religious establishment?

Shiites are Iraq’s largest ethno-sectarian group — and these Iraqis have a history of appealing to their religious leaders, known collectively as the marjayya, during political crises. Many observers mistakenly think Iraqi clerics are divorced from political involvement — which they see in stark contrast to Iran.…  Seguir leyendo » “The role of Iraq’s influential Shiite clerics is changing”

Es buena noticia que el rey Felipe VI haya decidido celebrar su cumpleaños en Irak. Más allá de la respetable labor de las tropas españolas, nos permite volver los ojos hacia un país que merece una esperanza, y que necesita de nuestra cooperación.

Irak quedó grabado en la memoria de la población española con la invasión en 2003 por las fuerzas de la coalición liderada por Estados Unidos, bajo la premisa falsa de la existencia de armas de destrucción masiva. Desde entonces, lo que ha llegado a la opinión pública son atentados, conflictos menores y Gobiernos frágiles. El ISIS llegó a controlar un 40% del territorio, desatando un conflicto que arrasó medio país y dejó más de 5 millones de personas desplazadas.…  Seguir leyendo » “Irak después del ISIS”

31 October 2018. CRISISGROUP/Julie David de Lossy

Iraq has endured decades of sanctions, war, invasion, regime change and dysfunctional government. These span Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, a devastating eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s and crippling UN sanctions throughout the 1990s. Those difficult years gave way to the traumas of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and its chaotic aftermath, which brought the insurgents of the Islamic State to the outskirts of the Iraqi capital Baghdad in 2014.

While governments form and collapse behind the blast walls of Baghdad’s Green Zone, life in the rest of the city has grown resilient to the disruptions of politics. Iraqis are finding individual and civic solutions to collective problems that politicians and state are failing to address.…  Seguir leyendo » “Picturing Baghdad”

A man, blindfolded and handcuffed, kneels on the ground between two members of the Iraqi security forces after being accused of having links to the Islamic State group and being detained, on Nov. 8. (Alice Martins/For The Washington Post)

Last month, President Trump claimed the defeat of the Islamic State as justification for his decision to withdraw American troops from Syria. In 2014, at the height of its reign, the Sunni insurgent group governed an estimated 10 million people and 34,000 square miles of territory.

The Islamic State no longer controls significant territory in Iraq and Syria. But during a visit to Baghdad in December, the question being asked by Iraqi government officials was not if the Islamic State is making a comeback, but how soon the group will again be strong enough to recapture and hold territory.

How the Iraqi government is fueling anger

In Iraq, the government’s harsh counterterrorism strategy, which is widely perceived as collectively punishing the Sunnis, is generating new grievances that could increase local support for an Islamic State 2.0.…  Seguir leyendo » “How the Iraqi crackdown on the Islamic State may actually increase support for the Islamic State”

Demonstrators waved Iranian and pro-Iranian party flags during a protest in September against the torching of the Iranian Consulate and the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) party headquarters in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. (Haidar Mohammed Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

Iran’s once-indomitable influence in Iraq is waning, new public opinion data shows. The rise of Iranian influence can be traced to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Iran filled a political vacuum left after the fall of Saddam Hussein in ways the United States could not, cultivating a wide range of Iraqi proxies and constituencies.

Iran’s popularity increased significantly in Iraq from 2003 until 2014. Iran’s strategy was to exploit Iraq’s sectarian divide, using Shiite parties to increase its influence not only among the political elite but also among average Iraqi Shiites. Sectarian religious propaganda was one of the main tools used by Iran to increase its popularity and hence influence among Iraqis.…  Seguir leyendo » “Iran’s influence in Iraq is declining”

A man collects dead fish from a reservoir at a fish farm north of Basra in August. Photo: Getty Images.

In August, frustrations over crippled public services, drought and unemployment in Al-Basra governorate boiled over. The acute cause was a water contamination crisis. By the end of October, hospital admissions of those suffering from poisoning exceeded 100,000 according to health officials. Crops and animals in the rural areas have been severely affected by lack of water and current levels of salinity, with thousands migrating to Basra city.

The unrest continues, stoked by local and regional tensions, and even threatens the export of oil from Iraq’s only deep water port, Umm Qasr. But the crisis of water governance that triggered it endangers more than oil, and will exacerbate problems of child health, migration and interstate conflict.…  Seguir leyendo » “Basra’s Poisonous Water Demands International Action”

In this image from Oct. 1, 2018, fans of slain former beauty queen, fashion model and social media star Tara Fares left flowers and candles at her gravesite in Najaf, Iraq. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)

This year, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to 25-year-old Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman from Iraq, and Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege for their activism against sexual violence in war. In 2014, Murad survived the massacre of her village, Kocho, in northern Iraq and the systematic enslavement of Yazidi women. Her mother and six brothers were killed by Islamic State militants. Many hope this prize will draw attention to the ongoing plight of Yazidis and all victims of the Islamic State, thousands of whom are still reported missing or remain in captivity.

Recent weeks have also seen the assassinations of two prominent Iraqi women, human rights defender Suad al-Ali in Basra and social media star Tara Fares in Baghdad.…  Seguir leyendo » “After several high-profile murders in Iraq, here’s what headlines missed about their cause”

Iraq’s new president, Barham Salih, front right, walks with the new prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, front left, in the parliament building in Baghdad on Oct. 2. (Karim Kadim/AP)

For the first time in its history, the Iraqi parliament voted freely for the country’s next president, with Barham Salih winning by a landslide vote of 219 to 22 over his competitor last week. In the past, the parliamentary vote served mainly as a rubber stamp.

Though elements of the old backroom politics remain, this vote marks a departure. After last summer’s election shake-up, some two-thirds of the members of parliament are new to the job. A growing protest movement has exposed citizen disillusionment with the political process, increasing pressure on the parliament. My conversations with many of these new MPs show how fragmentation of political blocs is challenging Iraq’s ethno-sectarian power-sharing agreement in place since 2003.…  Seguir leyendo » “Can a new president and prime minister solve Iraq’s broken politics?”

People gather in Ahvaz for the funeral of those killed during an attack on a military parade in the city, on 24 September, 2018. ATTA KENARE / AFP

What’s at stake in the 30 September elections?

Voters in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq will choose the 111 members of the Kurdistan National Assembly, in the fourth election since the body was founded in 1992 and the first since the Kurdish independence referendum on 25 September 2017. At stake, as usual, is the equilibrium between Iraqi Kurdistan’s dominant political parties – the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). This time, however, the fate of the PUK also hangs in the balance, as it faces a challenge from opposition rivals, the Gorran and New Generation movements.

At issue is also the relationship of the Kurdish region’s institutions – the Assembly, the judiciary and the executive, including the presidency – to the KDP and PUK.…  Seguir leyendo » “Iraqi Kurdistan’s Regional Elections Test a Brittle Status Quo”

A man holds a national flag while protesters burn the municipal complex during protests demanding better public services and jobs in Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)

Three months after protesters first took to the streets during a sweltering Iraqi summer, a fragile calm has been reestablished in the southern-Iraqi province of Basra. Security forces instituted a curfew to prevent the nightly riots that have claimed the lives of dozens of protesters. Last weekend, mobs torched the regional offices of several Iraqi political parties and the Iranian Consulate, and fired rockets toward Basra’s airport.

The protesters’ demands have been relatively simple: water, electricity, employment and an end to Iraq’s endemic political corruption.

The protesters and their representatives have also frequently called on Baghdad to allow Basra increased degrees of economic and political independence from the central state.…  Seguir leyendo » “After the big protests in Basra, what’s next?”

Des Irakiens yézidis fuient les attaques de l'Etat islamique et se dirigent vers la frontière syrienne, le 10 août 2014. Photo Rodi Said. Reuters

Le 3 août 2014, l’Etat islamique lançait ses exactions contre les Yézidis en Irak, massacrait des centaines d’hommes, réduisait de milliers de femmes à l’esclavage et embrigadait autant d’enfants. Quatre ans plus tard, plus de 3 000 femmes et enfants sont encore portés disparus et 300 000 Yézidis vivent dans des camps au nord de l’Irak, sans ressources et sans perspective d’avenir. Quatre ans plus tard, il semblerait que le peuple yézidi se trouve aussi face à des bouleversements profonds, aussi bien vis-à-vis de ses relations avec le monde, au sein de la communauté elle-même, qu’à l’égard de ce qui semble être devenu un nouveau pilier, la femme.…  Seguir leyendo » “Nous, les Yézidis”

Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration against a draft income tax law near the prime minister’s office in Amman, Jordan, on June 6. (Annie Sakkab/Bloomberg News)

Over the past week, protests and violence proliferated across Iraq’s southern provinces. In unprecedented scenes, buildings of provincial capitals were stormed, and the offices of political parties and militias were attacked and burned down.

These are Iraq’s Shiite heartlands that contributed most of the manpower to the fight against the Islamic State. The political elites who have dominated the post-2003 order have legitimized their rule by claiming to represent and advance the interest of this previously marginalized constituency.

And yet, in recent elections, these provinces recorded some of the lowest turnout. That political disengagement has now transformed into a new and more radical means of contesting political power.…  Seguir leyendo » “Protests are mounting in Iraq. Why?”

In this May 14 photo, supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr carry his image as they celebrate in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. (Hadi Mizban/Associated Press)

On May 12, Iraq held parliamentary elections in which a coalition of the Islamist Sadrist movement, led by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) secured more seats than any other alliance. It was a shocking victory that left the party of incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi — the pre-election favorite — trailing in third place.

The Sadrist-ICP electoral pact seemed to mark a transformation in Iraqi politics as two previously antagonistic groups aligned behind a single political vision. But why do such shifts continue to take analysts by surprise? When dealing with Iraq, a focus on political elites and sectarianism has produced an image of a society incapable of collective action against the political class.…  Seguir leyendo » “Why everyone failed to predict the leftist-Islamist alliance that won Iraq’s 2018 elections”

A volunteer points out the place where a displaced woman from Sinjar can cast her vote in the parliamentary elections at a polling site in a camp for displaced people outside Irbil, Iraq, on May 12. (Bram Janssen/AP)

On May 12, Iraq held a remarkably successful and violence-free national election. A coalition of Shiite Islamists and communists led by Moqtada al-Sadr, running on a reform agenda, won the largest number of seats in the new parliament. Sitting Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s coalition placed third.

While the results have generated considerable optimism, allegations of widespread electoral fraud have also emerged in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region and Kirkuk. There have been numerous calls to address and investigate these claims, including from the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

In these areas, results favored two long-dominant parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).…  Seguir leyendo » “Was Iraq’s recent election a democratic success? Depends whom you ask”

When International Crisis Group recently asked officials and analysts from Saudi Arabia and Iran to list their key interests in Iraq, we discovered that Riyadh and Tehran may agree on more than either side realized.

As Iraq’s newly-elected parliament negotiates to form a government, Saudi Arabia and Iran should take that list as a starting point to support Baghdad — and advance their interests too.

The United States, which has invested 15 years, hundreds of billions of dollars and nearly 5,000 soldiers’ lives in the name of Iraqi stability, has a vital interest in encouraging this détente so that Iraq does not become a battleground for foreign interests yet again.…  Seguir leyendo » “Iraq rebuild can help abate sectarian tension across the region”

Iraqis in Mosul waited to vote on May 12 next to a building in ruins from the battle to oust Islamic State militants from their city. (Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

On May 12, Iraq held its fourth national elections since 2003. More than 10 million people turned up at polling stations. Men and women alike voted freely — a rarity in the Middle East, and something that Iraqis can be proud of. Despite a lower turnout than was expected, voters leaned toward cross-sectarian lists rather than the ethnic or sect-based groupings that dominated previous elections.

I myself campaigned in all 18 provinces, and our coalition won seats in 14 of those, something no other list was able to achieve. While there are irregularities that need to be addressed by the Independent High Electoral Commission, I have called on all sides to respect the final results and address any complaints through due legal process.…  Seguir leyendo » “Why Iraq’s election is a remarkable victory for democracy”