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 »

El Papa Francisco es el primer Pontífice en visitar Irak. Llegó a este país inmerso desde hace años en guerras en apoyo y reconocimiento a la comunidad cristiana perseguida. «Vengo como penitente que pide perdón al Cielo y a los hermanos musulmanes por tanto dolor y crueldad. Vengo como peregrino de paz, en nombre de Cristo Príncipe de la Paz». Palabras que el Santo Padre manifestó en repetidas ocasiones.

Francisco viajó a las periferias de la humanidad para encontrarse con quienes mas sufren. Pero también con otros muchos colectivos víctimas de guerras y de conflictos a lo largo de muchos años.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Revolutionary Guard Corps launches missiles in a drill in Iran on Jan. 15. (Revolutionary Guard Corps/Sepah News/AP)

A year after President Donald Trump ordered a lethal drone strike on Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian government continues to vow revenge. Just last week, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, retweeted a photo of Trump golfing under the shadow of a drone or plane, with the word “vengeance” standing out in red script in the Farsi message.

The killing of Soleimani, a top Iranian military leader in a third-party country (Iraq) — without that country’s permission — raised international concerns about the growing use of targeted drone strikes. But the death of Soleimani also seemed to throw “the drone rulebook” out of the window and open the door to widespread drone misuse.…  Seguir leyendo »

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 »