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  • Author: Harith Hasan, Kheder Khaddour
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Abstract: Over the past nearly two decades, the presence of a variety of state and nonstate military and security forces has transformed the Syrian border district of Bukamal and the neighboring Iraqi district of Qa’im. Following the end of the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s caliphate, Iranian-backed militias began to play a major role in the area, turning it into a flashpoint between Iran and its allies on the one side and the United States and Israel on the other. The strain of tensions and the threat of instability are liable to ensure that this heavily securitized part of the border will remain a magnet for conflict for years to come.
  • Topic: Geopolitics, Islamic State, Conflict, Borders
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Ronen Zeidel
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Mitvim: The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies
  • Abstract: The final months of 2019 were marked by widespread, prolonged protests throughout Iraq, which began in October. Baghdad was the focal point of the demonstrations, which were directed at the ruling political elite and the state backing it: Iran. Prime Minister Adil AbdulMahdi resigned at the end of November, throwing official Iraq into a political vacuum and guaranteeing that any premier appointed to replace him would be considered an interim ruler and as such, his government would only be accepted by the weakened political elite, but not by a significant part of the population. This article reviews the changes that occurred in 2019 in the nature of Israel-Iraq cooperation, as they relate to diplomatic, security, economic and civilian aspects.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Bilateral Relations, Civilians
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Israel, Palestine
  • Author: Kristin Perry
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: The inclusion of women is critical to the success and sustainability of reconciliation efforts. To date, however, the government of Iraq has failed to prioritize women’s participation in its national reconciliation program. In the development of the second Iraqi National Action Plan (INAP), the federal government has an opportunity to rectify this legacy and restore the social contract with its female constituents. This policy brief examines current gender deficits throughout Iraq’s reconciliation process and offers relevant recommendations.
  • Topic: Women, Feminism, Reconciliation , Sustainability
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Mitvim: The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies
  • Abstract: For the past two years, Mitvim Institute experts have been studying the changing relations between Israel and key Arab states – Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq. They examined the history of Israel’s ties with each of these states; the current level of Israel’s diplomatic, security, economic and civilian cooperation with them; the potential for future cooperation and the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Israel’s ties in the Middle East. Based on their research and on task-team deliberations, the experts put together a snapshot of the scope of existing and potential cooperation between Israel and key Arab states, as of mid-2019.
  • Topic: International Relations, Security, Diplomacy, Regional Cooperation
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, United Arab Emirates
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Mitvim: The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies
  • Abstract: For the past two years, Mitvim Institute experts have been studying the changing relations between Israel and key Arab states – Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq. They examined the history of Israel’s ties with each of these states; the current level of Israel’s diplomatic, security, economic and civilian cooperation with them; the potential for future cooperation and the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Israel’s ties in the Middle East. Based on their research and on task-team deliberations, the experts put together a snapshot of the scope of existing and potential cooperation between Israel and key Arab states, as of mid-2019.
  • Topic: International Relations, Security, Diplomacy, Regional Cooperation, Economy, Peace
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, United Arab Emirates
  • Author: Dlawer Ala'Aldeen
  • Publication Date: 02-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Turkey is in every way ideally placed to bridge the EU with its southern neighbours and together tackle their common challenges and myriad business opportunities. The question is, can they align priorities and policies to make the most of the opportunities? The answer is: not easily. Given the complexity of and uncertainty in Turkey and Iraq, as well as Syria’s security dynamics, sustained EU-Turkey convergence in all areas of common interest is unlikely in the foreseeable future. Although both Turkey and the EU have adopted multifaceted foreign policies vis-a-vis the Middle Eastern countries, yet they have converged only on specific issues, such as dealing with the Iran nuclear deal. Both sides consider the US withdrawal from the deal as a “matter of concern”, believing that maintaining the deal and keeping Iran engaged through diplomatic and economic means instead of sanctions or military threats is crucial even after the US withdrawal. Otherwise, Turkey and the EU diverge on the overall approach to the most troubled neighbours, namely Iraq and Syria, which have been sources of grave concern to all. Iraq continues to be a fragile country, struggling to keep its integrity. The country was at the brink of failure between 2014-2017 after the emergence of the so called Islamic State (IS), and further threatened by the Kurdish referendum for independence in 2017. Iraq was pulled back to survival, mainly by international assistance. Interestingly, in 2018 Iraq saw two transformative general elections, one for the Federal and the other for the Kurdistan Region’s Parliament. The outcome of these elections brought about a degree of change in the political landscape, a sense of optimism for future recovery and a clear promise for creating new business opportunities for international partners. However, in keeping with the past, the formation of government in both Baghdad and Erbil became protracted and problematic. These features indicate that the Iraqi leaders remain ill focused on the country’s priorities in terms of state-building and provision of services or addressing the root causes of its fragility. Turkey and the EU share the objectives of accessing Iraq’s market and energy supply, and prevent onward migration of the displaced populations. Of course, the EU is to a large extent dependent on Turkey to achieve its goals. Therefore, it would make sense for the two sides to converge and cooperate on these issues. However, Turkey’s foreign policies in the southern neighbourhood are driven primarily by its own domestic and border security considerations and – importantly – Turkey sees the economic, political and security issues as inextricable. While Iraq has lost its state monopoly over legitimate violence and is incapable of securing its borders, Turkey often takes matters into its own hands by invading or intervening in Iraq, both directly and indirectly (through proxies). Of course, the Iraqi government considers Turkey’s interventions as acts of aggression and violations of its borders, but is unwilling to take measures against them. For Iraq, Turkey is a regional power and an indispensable neighbour. It has control over part of Iraq’s oil exports, water supply and trade routes. The EU, on the other hand, considers Turkey’s interventions as acts of self-defence but frowns upon them as destabilising factors, adding to the fragility of Iraq. In Syria, the political landscape and security dynamics are very different from Iraq, but the EU-Turkish policies follow similar patterns. Syria remains a failed state with its regime struggling to secure survival and regain control over its territories. Meanwhile, Turkey has become increasingly interventionist in Syria via direct military invasion and through proxies, culminating in the occupation of a significant area west of Euphrates, and threatening to occupy the Eastern side too. Turkey has put extreme pressure on the USA for permission to remove the Syrian Democratic Front (SDF) and its lead organisation (Democratic Union Party, PYD) from governing North East Syria (also referred to as Rojava). However, the EU and USA consider the SDF and PYD indispensable in the fight against IS and fear the Turkish interventions may have grave consequences. Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative and Vice-President of the European Commission recently emphasised that “Turkey is a key partner of the EU”, and that the EU expect the “Turkish authorities to refrain from any unilateral action likely to undermine the efforts of the Counter-IS Coalition”. Therefore, EU-Turkey divergence or even conflict with some EU Member States is possible over Syria.
  • Topic: Security, Regional Cooperation, Military Strategy, European Union, Islamic State, Political stability
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Europe, Turkey, Middle East, Asia, Syria
  • Author: Dlawer Ala'Aldeen
  • Publication Date: 03-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: This month last year, the Kuwaiti government hosted a ‘Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq’. It was attended by the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, along with dozens of foreign ministers and large numbers of other government and business representatives. The timing was perfect for Iraq. The country had recently announced the military defeat of the Islamic State (IS) and was enjoying an unprecedented level of optimism and all-round international good will. Until then, Iraq had for a number of years been suffering from a severe economic crisis, precipitated largely by decades of poor management of state resources, never-ending wars and crises, and the drop in oil prices. Hence, the country needed help and, luckily for the Iraqis, its neighbours were willing to help because failure to address reconstruction needs would add to the country’s fragility and chronic instability.
  • Topic: United Nations, Military Strategy, Reconstruction, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad, Kurdistan
  • Author: Emma Hesselink
  • Publication Date: 04-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Now that IS has been defeated, at least territorially, governments, donors and the international community are investing in Iraq’s state building programmes both at national and local levels. However, Nineveh governorate, which suffered greatest damage and requires greatest attention, has been the scene of a highly divided security landscape since its liberation from IS. The chronic divisions between different actors such as Peshmerga and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are only worsened by the presence of the Hashd al-Shaabi and other non-state actors in the Disputed Territories. This brief provides an analysis of the risks posed by Hashd in Nineveh and offers recommendations into regaining a grip on the situation.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Islamic State, State Building
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad
  • Author: Anne van der Wolff
  • Publication Date: 05-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Many of the Islamic State associated women and children now live in camps inside Iraq and are denied identity cards, including birth and death certificates. These practices violate national and international laws and are likely to contribute to future radicalisation and renewed violent extremism. Iraq must develop clear policies in line with its democratic constitution.
  • Topic: Violent Extremism, Radicalization, Democracy, Islamic State, Identities
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Henrietta Johanssen
  • Publication Date: 05-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: With Iraq’s displacement crisis, violence against women and girls has reached new levels of cruelty. However, with a forthcoming transition into stabilisation and the signed commitment to implement UNSCR 1325 for Women, Peace, and Security, both Iraq and Kurdistan Region now have the momentum to pave a new route to safeguarding and promoting women. This policy brief discusses the sexual and gender based violence in Iraq, and the centrality of ‘honour’ and ‘shame’, to tackling legal, structural, and communal barriers to women empowerment.
  • Topic: United Nations, Women, Gender Based Violence , Feminism, Sexual Violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Dlawer Ala'Aldeen
  • Publication Date: 05-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: The latest tension between Iran and the United States has created an unhealthy debate among local actors in Iraq and the wider Middle East, reflecting minimal insight into Washington or Tehran’s policy environment. This in itself can be extremely detrimental to their own national agenda as well as the overall dynamics. The question here is: where is this US-Iran escalation leading and what policy would be best for the local players in Iraq (and elsewhere) to pursue?
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Imperialism, Regional Cooperation, Military Strategy
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Tehran, Washington, D.C.
  • Author: Dlawer Ala'Aldeen, Goran Zangana
  • Publication Date: 06-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Chemicals are widely used in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region (KRI) for various civilian purposes. Terrorist organizations have demonstrated their intention, know-how and capacity to convert chemicals of civilian use to chemical weapons. Without an urgent and comprehensive policy response, the KRI can face significant breaches in chemical security with immeasurable risks to the population and the environment. This report follows a special MERI workshop on chemical security, where major challenges were identified and a number of policy recommendation made.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Chemical Weapons
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan
  • Author: Federico Borsari
  • Publication Date: 07-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Stabilisation and recovery in Iraq are intimately tied to the structural sustainability and accountability of the security apparatus across the country. The Kurdish Peshmerga forces are currently undergoing an ambitious process of modernisation and institutionalisation aimed at transforming them into an apolitical and professional entity, to the expected benefit of both Erbil and Baghdad. This policy brief examines the contours of this process against the backdrop of Iraq’s precarious security landscape and offers policy recommendations.
  • Topic: Security, Political structure, Institutionalism, Recovery
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: This timely session was dedicated to a debate with the President of Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) to discuss central geo-political and domestic developments, including the protests and the crisis of governance in Baghdad; the Turkish invasion of Northern Syria (particularly Rojava); and finally, the effects of internal political fissures within the KRI.
  • Topic: Development, Governance, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Europe, Turkey, Middle East, Asia, Baghdad, Syria, Kurdistan
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Two years after the official ‘defeat’ of IS, Iraqi politics remain dominated by complex and rapidly shifting political dynamics. Intrastate fragmentation and a loss of social cohesion are reflected in the recent public demonstrations for better services across Iraq, as well as in ongoing debates about budget and oil negotiations between Erbil and Baghdad. International Correspondent, Jane Arraf, introduced this panel of government officials and journalists by setting the current scene in Baghdad, which is undergoing large-scale public protests by citizens with dwindling faith in their home country. The protest participants include women and families who have not received anything from the promise of the ‘new’ Iraq. Young people are among those most vulnerable in the current crisis.
  • Topic: Social Movement, Islamic State, Protests, Youth Movement
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad, Erbil
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: At the outset of this panel, Dlawer Ala’Aldeen invited the Prime Minister (PM) to share his vision and strategy for his 4-year term in office. Ala’Aldeen observed that Masrour Barzani’s cabinet is a coalition of different political parties, and that the internal coordination demonstrated during its first four months has provided good reason for hope. He stated that observers acknowledge the PM’s former track record of success, and have high expectations for what he will be able to accomplish in office.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Domestic politics
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Over the past decade and a half, the KRI’s share of the federal budget and oil revenue has been the most significant point of tension between Erbil and Baghdad. Each year, when the budgetary law is formulated and voted upon, a new crisis is initiated; the next is already brewing, as the budget law is currently under discussion. According to journalist Hiwa Osman, this bilateral relationship is also affected by ongoing neutralisation disagreements over the disputed territories, which are manifested in the positionalities of the Peshmerga, paramilitary, and federal security forces.
  • Topic: Security, Diplomacy, Budget
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad, Erbil
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: The 9th KRG Cabinet was formed in July of 2019. At its inception, the PM committed his new cabinet to a manifesto consisting of 52 critical reforms, designed to fulfill his pledge to improve services, enhance the rule of law, strengthen government institutions, and address chronic problems that have plagued Iraq for 100 years. All cabinet ministers were tasked, from the outset, with the mandate to prepare their respective ministries for the implementation of that manifesto. In his opening remarks, Dlawer Ala’Aldeen stated that, following the debate with the Prime Minister, who described his vision and strategies for the KRG Cabinet overall, this panel would dig deeper into the specific action plans of four key service-related ministries. These include the Ministries of Education, Health, Electricity, and Reconstruction & Housing. The Ministry of Planning, which plays a central role in the overall operation of the government and the expenditure of its budget, would be engaged as well.
  • Topic: Reconstruction, Health Care Policy, Reform, Budget
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: In his introduction, panel chairman Farhad Alaaldin explained that Iraq is in a state of crisis. The current socio-political situation, as reflected by demonstrations and protests across the various governorates, is both complicated and complex. He explained that this panel, featuring central players from the international community, would examine the contours of this crisis and solicit external perspectives.
  • Topic: Social Movement, Political stability, Protests, State Building
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Panel chairman Henriette Johansen explained that internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Nineveh Province experience multiple layers of barriers to their return, some of which are unarticulated or invisible in the milieu of societal concerns stemming from Nineveh’s history of violence and its ongoing challenges with security and public administration. Within Nineveh’s minority communities, historic legacies of socio-economic and political disenfranchisement, war, genocide, and foreign invasion have enervated the will to return. While 4.3 million IDPs have returned, 1.5 million still remain in displacement. Recent government measures, such as rapidly consolidating and closing IDP camps across Nineveh, have sent a new wave of IDPs into critical shelter and extreme living conditions. Expectation and hope for sustainable, voluntary return are diminishing, along with IDPs’ expectation that authorities will deliver on their promises. After protracted displacement, IDPs are feeling the push to integrate into their host communities or emigrate abroad. Johansen explained that, in the ensuing discussion, panelists would be solicited for any actions within their respective remits that could rectify this situation for their constituents. In his remarks, Nathanael Nizar Semaan praised the “great hope” that has sustained the Christian minority through a long history of injustice, difficulty, and persecution. Despite disappointing rates of return among the Christian community, he argued that his constituents feel rooted to their ancestral lands, and were among the first to attempt a return to their areas of origin in the Nineveh Plains following liberation. He highlighted the example of Qaraqosh, which has seen approximately 22,000 Christian returnees out of an original population of 50,000. Unfortunately, however, continued deficits in services, limited career opportunities, and a poor standard of living have rendered most returns unsustainable. Additionally, after years of persecution and inequality, governmental inaction in the face of political disputes and demographic change has enervated the confidence of Christian constituents in the federal government’s ability to provide safety and prosperity for their children. As a result, many have chosen to remain in the KRI or to migrate abroad. “Our country is bleeding. Many are leaving… it is very painful for us.” – Semaan He acknowledged that religious leaders have a responsibility to incentivize return and remind their constituents that they belong to Iraq, but noted that stymieing the flow of migration is impossible without sufficient political will, attention, and provision from the government. He urged the government to rectify its neglect of the disputed territories and provide practical solutions. “Our areas need to be given more,” he said. “Christians are like an olive tree that is cut and burned, but the root will appear and grow again. We are rooted to this ground, though we face different difficulties and […] persecution.” – Semaan Semaan stated that religious leaders have renewed their vows to serve their constituents. To support the implementation of Iraq’s National Action Plan (INAP) on UNSCR 1325, he emphasized the need for assistance and training from the international community, as the Church has very little experience rendering psychological treatment to women and children. He also urged the international community to expend significant effort in securing the inclusion of youth and providing opportunities for them to make positive contributions to Iraq’s reconstruction. He explained that, while the Church offers social activities, cultural events, and entertainment to engage with young people, it does not have the power to dissuade them from migration or offer them a prosperous life. “If we lose them,” he admitted, “we will vanish.” Finally, he highlighted the church’s involvement in housing reconstruction projects, and invited the partnership of engineers and economists to assist in the planning and strategizing process. Semaan concluded his remarks by encouraging a spirit of optimism. He emphasized that Christians consider all Iraqis their brothers, and noted that securing the lawful rights of the Christian minority need not come at the expense of other components. He promoted a vision of the future predicated on dignity and respect, and reassured listeners that “our common language will be the language of love.”
  • Topic: Migration, Refugees, Domestic politics, Displacement
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan
  • Author: Sarah L. Edgecumbe
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: The contemporary displacement landscape in Iraq is both problematic and unique. The needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq are many, particularly as protracted displacement becomes entrenched as the norm rather than the exception. However, minorities originating from the so called ‘Disputed Territories’ and perceived Islamic State (IS)-affiliates represent two of the most vulnerable groups of IDPs in Iraq. Iraqi authorities currently have a real opportunity to set a positive precedent for IDP protection by formulating pragmatic durable solutions which incorporate non-discriminatory protection provisions, and which take a preventative approach to future displacement. This policy paper analyses the contemporary displacement context of Iraq, characterized as it is by securitization of Sunni IDPs and returnees, as well as ongoing conflict and coercion within the Disputed Territories. By examining current protection issues against Iraq’s 2008 National Policy on Displacement, this paper identifies protection gaps within Iraq’s response to displacement, before drawing on the African Union’s Kampala Convention in order to make recommendations for an updated version of the National Policy on Displacement. These recommendations will ensure that a 2020 National Policy on Displacement will be relevant to the contemporary protection needs of Iraq’s most vulnerable IDPs, whilst also acting to prevent further conflict and displacement.
  • Topic: Security, Migration, Religion, Refugees, Displacement
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Ali Al-Mawlawi
  • Publication Date: 07-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The decentralization agenda emerged in Iraq after 2003 as an imperative to create an internal balance of power that would mitigate against the rise of another authoritarian regime. By exploring the political motivations and calculations of elites, this paper sheds light on why devolution of powers to sub-national entities failed to bring about meaningful change to the daily lives of ordinary Iraqis. While administrative authorities have been largely devolved, fiscal decentralization lags due to resistance from concerned central authorities, leaving sub-national actors with limited capacity to exercise their newly afforded powers.
  • Topic: Authoritarianism, State Formation, State Building, Decentralization
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad
  • Author: Hashim Al-Rikabi
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The stability and legitimacy of the post-2003 Iraqi state are undermined by the provision of poor basic services, soaring unemployment, and political paralysis. This has driven ordinary citizens towards waves of protests that peaked in August 2018 and re-surged again in October 2019, demonstrating that without addressing the underlying causes behind these protests, much larger and more aggressive protest waves may shock the system, again and again, threatening its existence. The initial phase of the 2019 protests was similar to the first period of 2018 protests (April - June) in terms of their small scale, their focus on specific issues such as unemployment, and their largely peaceful nature. But quickly, within a few weeks, the 2019 protests escalated with protesters blocking key economic facilities and attacking government buildings and political parties’ headquarters. This escalation mirrored the trajectory of the 2018 which also intensified over time, but what is striking is the speed with which the 2019 intensified and moved from socio-economic focused demands to demands for fundamental political reforms, including new elections. While the involvement of political actors was evident in efforts by politicians, such as Muqtada Al-Sadr, to try to ride the wave of protests as well as the crackdown on protests by armed elements of certain political parties, the 2019 mobilization has also shown the emergence of a new generation of protesters and the rising role of new social actors, such as professional groups. The increasing frequency of protests since 2018 and their widening and deepening scope suggest that the post-2003 Iraqi governance model, with its stalemate between the different political actors, needs a fundamental new formulation that is able to renew trust in a reformed political system. The stalemate could either develop into genuine reforms to address the ills of the post-2003 political and economic system, away from ethno-sectarian politics, or descend into violence.
  • Topic: Imperialism, Social Movement, Protests, State Building
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad
  • Author: Anthony H. Cordesman
  • Publication Date: 01-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: The United States, its allies, and international organizations are just beginning to come to grips with the civil dimensions of "failed state" wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, the Sudans, Syria, and Yemen. In each case, it is clear that the civil dimension of the war will ultimately be as important as the military one. Any meaningful form of "victory" requires far more than defeating the current extremist threat in military terms, and reaching some temporary compromise between the major factions that divide the country. The current insurgent and other security threats exist largely because of the deep divisions within the state, the past and current failures of the government to deal with such internal divisions, and the chronic failure to meet the economic, security, and social needs of much of the nation's population. In practical terms, these failures make a given host government, other contending factions, and competing outside powers as much of a threat to each nation’s stability and future as Islamic extremists and other hostile forces. Regardless of the scale of any defeat of extremists, the other internal tensions and divisions with each country also threaten to make any such “victory” a prelude to new forms of civil war, and/or an enduring failure to cope with security, stability, recovery, and development. Any real form of victory requires a different approach to stability operations and civil-military affairs. In each case, the country the U.S. is seeking to aid failed to make the necessary economic progress and reforms to meet the needs of its people – and sharply growing population – long before the fighting began. The growth of these problems over a period of decades helped trigger the sectarian, ethnic, and other divisions that made such states vulnerable to extremism and civil conflict, and made it impossible for the government to respond effectively to crises and wars.
  • Topic: Security, War, Fragile/Failed State, ISIS, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Africa, United States, Iraq, Middle East, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sundan
  • Author: Anthony H. Cordesman
  • Publication Date: 02-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: The U.S. has learned many lessons in its wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria—most of them the hard way. It has had to adapt the strategies, tactics, and force structures designed to fight regular wars to conflicts dominated by non-state actors. It has had to deal with threats shaped by ideological extremism far more radical than the communist movements it struggled against in countries like Vietnam. It has found that the kind of “Revolution in Military Affairs,” or RMA, that helped the U.S. deter and encourage the collapses of the former Soviet Union does not win such conflicts against non-state actors, and that it faces a different mix of threats in each such war—such as in cases like Libya, Yemen, Somalia and a number of states in West Africa. The U.S. does have other strategic priorities: competition with China and Russia, and direct military threats from states like Iran and North Korea. At the same time, the U.S. is still seeking to find some form of stable civil solution to the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria—as well as the conflicts Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and West Africa. Reporting by the UN, IMF, and World Bank also shows that the mix of demographic, political governance, and economic forces that created the extremist threats the U.S. and its strategic partners are now fighting have increased in much of the entire developing world since the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001, and the political upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa in 2011. The Burke Chair at CSIS has prepared a working paper that suggests the U.S. needs to build on the military lessons it has learned from its "long wars" in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries in order to carry out a new and different kind of “Revolution in Civil-Military Affairs,” or RCMA. This revolution involves very different kinds of warfighting and military efforts from the RMA. The U.S. must take full advantage of what it is learning about the need for different kinds of train and assist missions, the use of airpower, strategic communications, and ideological warfare. At the same time, the U.S. must integrate these military efforts with new civilian efforts that address the rise of extremist ideologies and internal civil conflicts. It must accept the reality that it is fighting "failed state" wars, where population pressures and unemployment, ethnic and sectarian differences, critical problems in politics and governance, and failures to meet basic economic needs are a key element of the conflict. In these elements of conflict, progress must be made in wartime to achieve any kind of victory, and that progress must continue if any stable form of resolution is to be successful.
  • Topic: Civil Society, United Nations, Military Strategy, Governance, Military Affairs, Developing World
  • Political Geography: Africa, United States, Iraq, Middle East, West Africa, Somalia, Sundan
  • Author: Anthony H Cordesman
  • Publication Date: 06-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: The Iraqi election in May 2018 has both highlighted Iraq's political uncertainties and the security challenges the United States now faces in Iraq and the Middle East. What initially appeared to be a relative honest election gradually emerged to have involved massive potential fraud, and forced a manual recount of the results of a failed electronic voting system. Its results have cast Iraq's ability to form an effective post-ISIS government into serious doubt, along with its ability to carry our follow-up provincial and local elections in October. At the same time, even the initial results of the election raised serious concerns over the level of future U.S. confrontation with Iran. The United States faced grave uncertainties regarding Iran's influence in Iraq even when it seemed that Iraq's existing Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, was likely to win the election. The election's uncertain results, and U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement, now virtually ensure that a far more intense struggle for influence will take place in Iraq and the rest of the region.
  • Topic: Elections, Democracy, ISIS, Election watch, JCPOA
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Melissa Dalton
  • Publication Date: 08-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton assemble their own senior Middle East teams, a number of U.S. interests hang in the balance in Syria: the enduring defeat of ISIS and al-Qaeda in the Levant; the vulnerability of neighboring Iraq to extremist disruption; the return of Syrian refugees; the mitigation of Iranian influence; the need to both compete and cooperate with Russia to end the civil war; and the security of regional partners and allies. U.S. values are also at stake: the conflict has precipitated a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions, with over 500,000 civilians dead and 12 million displaced. The U.S. ability to shape high-level outcomes in Syria is limited. Russia and Iran have outmaneuvered the United States there. With their backing, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is extending his control throughout Syrian territory—most recently via an offensive on southwestern Syria, previously the site of a “de-escalation zone” agreed between the United States, Russia, and Jordan, precipitating immense civilian displacement. Assad’s consolidation of extremists in Idlib amongst civilians raises the specter of another slaughter like Aleppo in 2016. The UN-backed Geneva process is moribund, though still worth supporting, while the United States has limited influence in the Astana and Sochi processes, which are also demonstrating limited returns. More broadly, Assad is already also brutally shaping the facts on the ground regarding “reconstruction” through forcible movement of populations, demographic engineering, constricting property rights, and predatory governance that favors loyalists. In his meeting with President Putin, President Trump reportedly discussed Syria, although there was no official joint summary of the summit. The discussion may have included options for drawing down U.S. forces in Syria in exchange for Russia convincing Iran to minimize its presence in Syria. However, Russia lacks the will and leverage over Iran to fulfill such a bargain. The national picture is bleak. Zooming into the Syrian map more closely, one subnational enclave currently outside of Assad’s control has taken some steps towards stability. Eastern Syria still offers leverage to salvage a marginally but meaningfully better outcome for U.S. interests and the Syrian population. In the weeks ahead, the United States should: take stock of the sources of leverage in eastern Syria; articulate its goal for translating these sources of leverage into a defined political endstate; develop this stated goal into a broader stabilization operational framework; and then execute “the art of deal” in developing a burden-sharing plan to support these objectives.
  • Topic: Civil War, Fragile/Failed State, Al Qaeda, Refugees, ISIS, Displacement
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Kevin Koehler
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: NATO Defense College
  • Abstract: Since the 2016 Warsaw Summit, the notion of projecting stability has made a return to NATO’s policy discourse. A central tenet of this agenda is the idea of securing the Alliance by stabilizing its periphery: “If our neighbours are more stable, we are more secure”, says the Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. At the core of this approach is therefore an attempt at shaping the security environment in NATO’s neighbourhood, relying to a significant extent on partnership with individual countries and other international organizations. But how does projecting stability work in practice? Can NATO develop a type of small-footprint, large-effect interaction with partners in its periphery? How can potential interest asymmetries between NATO and partners be addressed in this context? The new NATO
  • Topic: NATO, Imperialism, Regional Cooperation, Political stability
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Europe, North Atlantic, Middle East, North America
  • Publication Date: 01-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Regional Studies: CIRS
  • Abstract: This report provides a summary of the "Environmental Politics in the Middle East" research initiative, which explores the geopolitics of natural resources in the Middle East in an attempt to expand the focus to include the region’s many natural resources other than natural gas, such as land, air, water, and food. Some of the issues under investigation include a focus on water scarcity, which is a global issue but one that is particularly acute in the Middle East; its impacts are examined through a case study on Yemen. Food security is studied in the case of Syria, which before the civil war began, in 2011, was one of the region’s notable food exporters. Aside from acute food shortages within Syria, the conflict has had ripple effects on the region and has led to rising food prices in neighboring states, such as Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Environment, Natural Resources, Food
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Turkey, Middle East, Yemen, Syria, Jordan
  • Author: Yasir Kuoti
  • Publication Date: 01-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Years after toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein in April 2003, corruption remains one of the top concerns of Iraqi citizens. It has, thus, become a tradition for Iraqi governments to champion a resolve for ridding the country of this endemic. The government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is no exception. In his press briefing on 23 November 2017, al-Abadi announced his intention to launch a crosscutting anti-corruption campaign, promising an ultimate “triumph over corruption as Iraq did with Daesh.” While laudable, such efforts will prove substantially difficult and would require a national program that upsets how major aspects of Iraqi politics have been practiced since 2003.
  • Topic: Corruption, Government, Domestic politics
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad
  • Author: Kamaran Palani
  • Publication Date: 01-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Following the Islamic State’s (IS) occupation of Iraqi territories in June 2014 more than 3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) fled their homes in search for a secure place. Of these, around 1,3 million found refuge in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). In parallel to new waves of displacement, Iraqis were also choosing to migrate abroad. In 2015, Iraqis were among the top three nationalities reaching Europe through the Mediterranean routes, after Syrians and Afghans (UNHCR 2016b, 34). Besides displacement and emigration, a large number of IDPs have returned to their place of origin since 2017. As the process intensifies, the security, political and economic conditions of the liberated areas still remain unstable and unpredictable. This report provides policy recommendations based on the results of the research study titled “Drivers for onward migration: the case of Iraqi IDPs in the Kurdistan Region leaving Iraq”, which was conducted between May and November 2017. In it, we addressed the questions: what mechanisms are responsible for explaining why IDPs living in the KRI want to either stay, emigrate or return to their places of origin? and what are the relationships between displacement, emigration and return in the context of Iraq? To address these questions, we employed both quantitative and qualitative analyses methods including: (a) evaluating 500 questionnaires distributed among IDPs in the KRI (Erbil, Duhok and Suleimaniyah governorates) between May and June 2017; (b) conducting 30 semi-structured interviews with IDPs in the KRI between June and July 2017, and (c) discussing preliminary results of the study during a workshop in Erbil on 23 July 2017 with local, national and international actors, including governmental and non-governmental organizations. The data indicates that, although slightly more than half of the sample wish/plan to leave Iraq (55%), only a minority of the subjects (23%) actually developed a concrete plan to do so. Emigration was most appealing to those ages 26–35 and among those with no or low levels of education. Moreover, Yazidis and Christians were more represented among those who wished or planned to leave Iraq. In addition, the most important pull factors point to the presence of family/relatives and friends along with the confidence of receiving refugee status upon arrival. Ultimately, IDPs perceptions of insecurity and lack of economic opportunities appear to be the most compelling reasons driving their wish/plan to emigrate. The data also suggests that IDPs’ perceptions towards the future political, economic and security situations in Iraq (expressed in the next five years) is the most relevant factor determining people’s emigration decision: within an overall negative assessment of the future of Iraq, IDPs wishing or planning to emigrate held a more pessimistic view compared to those who wanted to return or stay in displacement. Conversely, the study finds that socio-political (i.e., relations between IDPs and hosting communities) and socio-economic (i.e., income level and employment status) factors are less significant in determining IDPs’ wish/plan to leave the country. Where socio-political and socio-economic factors do not directly influence IDPs’ intentions, they however, contribute to a distressing sense of uncertainty prevalent among IDPs. Political, social and economic uncertainty overarchingly influences displacement, emigration and return in and from Iraq. Additionally, the Government of Iraq (GoI) and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have not been capable of (or willing to) address such uncertainty. Rather, they have contributed to a governance of uncertainty best illustrated by the absence of a comprehensive framework for managing displacement and return in both the KRI and greater federal Iraq. In response, this study calls for the development of robust policies at the international, national and local levels which: a. Consider displacement in Iraq as a chronic condition versus a sudden crisis; b. Recognize how recurrent, protracted and unresolved displacement waves destabilize the region; c. Appreciate displacement as a diversified phenomenon. These findings stress the destabilizing and traumatic effects of displacement and the urgency of addressing them, thus, we recommend the following prioritized policy areas through which international, regional, national and local actors can contribute to solve, or at least mitigate, the negative impact of displacement: 1. Elaborate and implement a national policy framework for displacement capable of addressing its multiple manifestations; 2. Adopt facilitation (without active encouragement) measures that can decrease the prevalent uncertainty among the population; 3. Include displacement in the broader physical and social reconstruction plan for Iraq. The data for this report was collected in Spring/Summer 2017, and thus, describes a scenario that has changed following the events that took place in September and October 2017 (see Section 3). However, the findings and recommendations that the study identified appear as relevant today as they were pre- Referendum. Although the situation has changed, they support policy-recommendations that are urgently needed. The research project “Drivers for onward migration: t
  • Topic: Migration, Islamic State, Displacement, NGOs
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan
  • Author: Khogir Wirya
  • Publication Date: 03-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: With the military defeat of Islamic State (IS) militants in Mosul and other Iraqi territories, the Government of Iraq (GoI) is moving ahead with plans to stabilize violent environments, rebuild war-ravaged physical infrastructure, and restore vital services. Equally important is the need for developing a feasible national reconciliation strategy among the country’s various ethnic, religious, and social groups, through dialogue and trust-building mechanisms. In light of warm historical relations and significant political influence between Iraqi Kurds and Shi’ites, reconciliation between them is of paramount importance for lasting stability in the country. Indeed, in the absence of Erbil-Baghdad rapprochement, overcoming future political challenges will be very difficult. Towards that end, the Middle East Research Institute (MERI) and Al-Rafidain Centre for Dialogue (RCD) jointly organized a series of unofficial meetings involving representatives of Shi’ite political parties and a MERI-led Kurdish delegation between 28 February and 01 March 2018. Religious leaders, academics, political party representatives, members of parliament from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), Baghdad and Najaf attended the meetings, organized under the themes of “The Future of Governance in Iraq: Crises and Partnership Opportunities” and “The Role of Decision-makers and Political Elites in Building Confidence Among the Components of Iraqi Society.” The MERI-led delegation also visited the Marja’iya (Shi’ite religious authority) in al-Najaf city.
  • Topic: Religion, Islamic State, Political stability, Reconciliation
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan, Mosul
  • Author: Dlawer Ala'Aldeen
  • Publication Date: 03-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Ever since Saddam’s regime was toppled in 2003, Iraq has three competitive parliamentary elections in 2005, 2010 and 2014. In all of these, pre-election alliance building and post-election coalition building processes were fairly predictable given the confessional nature of Iraq’s political system. Essentially, the system is centered on a politically conventional power-sharing arrangement among the country’s three main ethno-sectarian powerhouses: Shi’ite Arab Muslims, Sunni Arab Muslims, and the Kurds. This arrangement has prompted small political parties to forge alliances with these confessional powerhouses. This time round, this trend is likely to continue in the upcoming elections scheduled on 12 May 2018, but perhaps on a smaller scale. What gravitates political entities are political expediency and nationalist sentiments. These two factors seem to be shaping and forming some alliances such as between secular and civil-minded parties, the Shiite Sadrist movement via Hizb Istaqama (the Integrity Party), and the Iraqi Communist party. On 22 January 2018, Iraqi legislators ratified a decision to hold much-debated anticipated parliamentary elections on 12 May 2018, thereby ending the stalemate by some lawmakers to postpone it. Iraq is at a crossroads, and much of what is at stake will depend on which of the 27 registered electoral alliances emerge as winners. The large number of alliances suggests that political entities are aware of the competitive advantages inherent to forming these, versus running independently. Indeed, because of Iraq’s particular parliamentarian arrangement, the 24 million eligible voters in the 18 national electoral districts, representing the country’s 18 governorates, will not be electing the next prime minister – they will, instead, be picking an electoral alliance, which will engage in post-election coalition building negotiations to nominate the prime minister and form the next government. While it is still premature to forecast the ultimate composition of the next government, it is most likely to be led by one of four viable options: Eitilaf al-Nasr (Victory Alliance) led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi; Eitilaf al-Wataniya (National Alliance) led by former Prime Minister Ayad Alawi; Eitilaf Dawlat al-Qanun (State of the Law Alliance) led by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; and Tahaluf al-Fatah (Conquest Alliance) led by al-Hashd al-Sha’abi (Popular Mobilization Units) commander Hadi al-Ameri. However, given the unpopularity of Iraq’s political class, no single alliance is expected to win a majority of parliamentary seats, forcing the formation of a grand-coalition government. This, nevertheless, may help build broad-based support and legitimacy given Iraq’s oversized economic, security, and political challenges. Furthermore, the next election is expected to maintain the status quo due to the existence of potent structural forces inspired by political and electoral confessionalism. However, and encouragingly, the status quo may prove ephemeral in the face of internal divisions within the traditional confessional centers of power, the rising popular discontent with the quality of the existing democratic system and the limited progress it has made over the past fifteen years. It would be safe to say that an inclusive government can increase popular support, reduce the likelihood of ethno-sectarian civil war, minimise the influence of external powers, and bolster the nation’s attractiveness to foreign investors. In the long term, Iraq needs a government that is ambitiously reformist to transform the state’s political, electoral, and economic systems.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Nationalism, Religion, Elections, Democracy
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad, Kurdistan
  • Author: Dlawer Ala'Aldeen
  • Publication Date: 06-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Despite frequent digressions, the system of governance in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) has made significant progress. However, this has always been influenced by internal and external political, economic, and security dynamics. In parallel, the system has inherited aspects from the former Iraqi, Middle Eastern and other models of governance- resulting in the formation of unique system. Further developing and reforming the governing system in the KRI requires a tailor-made solution that takes into account Kurdistan’s historical, cultural, religious and geographical background. Clearly the achievements and progress of the Region in the past 26 years should not be underestimated; as the KRI is in a neighbourhood bedevilled with regional powers with political agendas as well as weak or failed states. In addition, the KRI faces existential threats from violent extremist forces using the pretext of religion or nationalism in attempt to destabilise the Region. However, the KRI’s own increasing weakness is in its governance, which poses the greatest threat to its fate and future. Hence, this research-based policy book aims (1) to identify the key structural and functional weaknesses in the KRI’s governance system, and (2) to provide a 10-year roadmap capable of addressing these weaknesses. This book is an extended policy-report, a product of extensive research based on in-depth face-to-face interviews and roundtable meetings with more than 200 experts, including policy-makers, decision-makers and academics across the KRI’s governorates. In particular, the report focuses on reforming the management structures and mechanisms needed to promote the rule of law and create an environment conducive to achieving good governance, through: Adopting a transitional constitution for the KRI to serve as a framework and roadmap until the issue of the disputed territories is resolved. Transferring the political decision-making authority into the key democratic institutions. Enhancing legitimacy in the decision-making process. Maintaining the independence of government Consolidating the legislative, executive and judiciary institutions so they become sources of independent authority rather than tools for political interests. Amending dated laws and filling the numerous legislative gaps. Devolving power through administrative decentralisation and empowering local government. Enhancing the decision-making process and minimising bureaucracy. Strengthening institutions through restructuring and optimisation of staff numbers and performance. Enhancing institutional audit, monitoring and performance assessment. . Creating a tailor-made system for quality assurance, accreditation and performance management. This book provides detailed policy recommendations with the aim of introducing radical changes in the governance system, ensuring strengthened institutional structures, and empowering leadership and decision-making processes. The recommendations are designed to enhance the functionality and resilience of KRI’s system of governance in the face of future threats and crises. The public and the political leadership (including those in power and the opposition) have no choice but to engage heavily in nation- and state-building in the KRI with clear will and determination in order to achieve unity and prosperity. Left unaddressed, the status quo will not achieve the legitimate expectations of the people and will ultimately lead to failure of the entire governing system. Indubitably, reform and institutionalisation cannot be actualised in one institution or one sector of governance alone. Rather, these processes require a comprehensive and overreaching approach involving not only the public, but also the governing and opposition parties as well as the civil society.
  • Topic: Reform, Political structure, Institutionalism, State Building
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan
  • Author: Isam al Khafaji
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The 12 May Iraqi elections – the fourth since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein – provided several surprises and contradictions for Iraq’s political landscape. Primary among them was the unprecedented objections to and questioning of the results as announced by the Independent High Electoral Commission – a central focus of this paper. Previous election cycles witnessed objections and complaints, yet none reached an extent that would damaging the clean bill issued by national and international organizations or the Federal Court’s validation of the results. Criticism of electoral transparency reached a point where the Council of Ministers was obliged to create a “higher security committee” to investigate accusations sent to the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), and the United Nations representative in Iraq to send a letter calling on the IHEC to do a manual ballot counting of an arbitrary number of ballot boxes to ensure conformity with electronic ballot counting adopted for the first time this year. This multi-stage drama has reached the point where the Parliament decided, in an extraordinary session, to freeze the IHEC and assign a committee of nine judges to replace it, as well as to cancel the votes of internally displaced persons (approximately 3 million) and of Iraqis abroad (around 1.5 million). Therefore, any interpretation of the current election results must be cautioned with the knowledge that they are subject to change. The results most in question are from several predominantly Sunni governorates (such as Anbar and Salaheddin), Kurdish governorates (such as Sulaymaniyah, Erbil, and Dohuk), or ethnically mixed regions (such as Kirkuk) – where Arabs, Turks, and Kurds are in multiple ongoing disputes. However, the final decisions taken with regards to these appeals will not change the overall results as there is no serious questioning of the accuracy of the results in predominantly Shia governorates, which constitute the majority of Iraq’s population. That most of Iraq’s post-2003 prominent political movements resorted to unprecedented election rigging in 2018 is a tacit acknowledgement of the loss of trust they incurred before massive sectors of their electorates, a trend that has been observed by many for quite some time. Similarly, the public’s loss of confidence in the political class is also manifest in the alarming decline in voting rates, despite the high stakes of this year’s elections. Out of 24.5 million Iraqis eligible to vote, less than 11 million (44.5%) voted. Participation rates in all previous elections – except for governorate council elections – exceeded 60%. This low turnout translates the frustration of many voters at the possibility of changing the political establishment, despite changes in the political parties’ formation and election lists. Contrary to previous elections, where forces of Shia political Islam led by the Islamic Dawa Party were guaranteed to win, the 2018 elections involved bitter conflict among different political visions, each with serious consequences regarding Iraq’s future, and the form of the state to be rebuilt after the destruction wrought by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) and the policies of previous governments. However, most voters saw the fierce electoral competition as merely a repetition of the same faces, stances, and policies.
  • Topic: Islam, Elections, Geopolitics, Kurds
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad, Kurdistan
  • Publication Date: 03-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Africa Center for Strategic Studies
  • Abstract: After losing territory in Iraq and Syria, ISIS has affirmed its intention to expand its operations into Africa. A review of militant group activity on the continent, however, suggests that ISIS will be challenged to do so.
  • Topic: Regional Cooperation, Violent Extremism, ISIS, Militant Islam
  • Political Geography: Africa, Iraq, Middle East, North Africa, Syria
  • Author: Patrick Martin
  • Publication Date: 04-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: ISIS is waging a renewed offensive campaign in recaptured areas that could exploit vulnerabilities in the Iraqi Government’s ability to respond amidst accelerating political competition before upcoming elections.
  • Topic: War
  • Political Geography: Iraq
  • Author: Kevin Appleby
  • Publication Date: 04-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Migration Studies of New York
  • Abstract: From February 23, 2017 to March 6, 2017, His Eminence Roger Cardinal Mahony, archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles, California; His Excellency Silvano Tomasi, c.s., delegate secretary for the Holy See’s Dicastery on Integral Human Development; and Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy for the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) and the Scalabrini International Migration Network (SIMN), joined in a mission to Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Greece to examine the situation of refugees and the displaced in these states. The visit came against the backdrop of several actions and events which could adversely impact these populations in the immediate, near, and long-term future: (1) the proposed reduction in the number of refugees to be admitted by the United States from 110,000 to 50,000 a year, including a 120-day shutdown of the US refugee program; (2) the one-year-old agreement between the European Union and Turkey to halt Syrian and other refugee groups from migrating to and entering Europe; (3) the ongoing war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), most notably in the fight for the city of Mosul and surrounding villages in northern Iraq; and (4) the ongoing persecution of religious minorities in the region, including Christian groups. Overall, the delegation found that, despite heroic work by international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and agencies in the region, including refugee protection organizations, the humanitarian need of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) far outweigh the support given to them by the international community. In fact, the world community appears to be withdrawing its support, rather than increasing it.1 The following findings and recommendations from the mission are based on the delegation’s conversations with actors in the region, including refugees and displaced persons, care providers, representatives of the Catholic Church, their aid agencies, and United Nations (UN) officials.
  • Topic: Migration, Religion, Refugee Issues, European Union, ISIS, Displacement, NGOs, Humanitarian Crisis
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Europe, Iran, Turkey, Israel, Syria
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Regional Studies: CIRS
  • Abstract: Academic interest in Gulf security has continued to focus on traditional notions of zero-sum security threats emanating from Iran or Iraq, or the role of the United States. There has been limited exploration of the deeper, structural issues that threaten the region. In line with this, in the 2014-2015 academic year, CIRS launched a research initiative on “The Changing Security Dynamics of the Persian Gulf.” The purpose of this project is to scrutinize the ways in which domestic security threats in the region are evolving, and how newer challenges related to human security are being reinforced by—and in some ways actually replacing—military threats emanating from regional and outside actors. This project brings together a number of distinguished scholars to examine a variety of relevant topics, which resulted in original research chapters published in an edited volume titled, The Changing Security Dynamics of the Persian Gulf (Oxford University Press/Hurst, 2017), edited by Kristian Coates Ulrichsen.
  • Topic: Security, Military Strategy, Political structure
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Dylan O'Driscoll, Dave Van Zoonen
  • Publication Date: 03-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: This report views the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Forces, PMF) as having played an intrinsic role in the provision of security in Iraq since the dramatic rise of the Islamic State (IS). However, through the lens of nationalism it analyses the negative role the PMF may play once IS is defeated. The report therefore presents suggestions to deal with the perceived threat of the PMF in the short to medium term. The various groups within the PMF essentially represent a number of subnationalisms, which to a different extent act as competition to the state. The leaders of the various militias use their own particular brand of nationalism in their attempts to gain and maintain power and in doing so they dilute any prospect of national unity or loyalty to the state. Through providing security they act as competition to the Iraqi army which directly impacts on the perception of the state and is used by members of the PMF for political gain. The multiple competing subnationalisms in Iraq do little for the fostering of Iraqi unity or the functioning of Iraq as a state, and are likely to result in the continuation of violent conflict. Therefore, dealing with the challenges surrounding the PMF will be one of the most pressing issues in Iraq following the defeat of IS. The ultimate solution to this problem would be the incorporation of these forces through demobilisation and integration into the conventional ISF. Having one inclusive army, police force and border patrol operating under unified command structures and accountable to civil bodies of oversight is not only an important symbol in aiding national reconciliation and promoting cooperation between different communities, it is also a primary prerequisite for the effectiveness of the security sector as a whole. However, the current situation on the ground, in terms of security, reconciliation, and political will, precludes an aggressive, straight-forward pursuit of this objective. This necessitates an initial phase in which significant progress in these areas is made before incorporation of most PMF units can realistically take place. The government of Prime Minister Abadi needs to use its time following IS’ defeat to build a solid political platform based on shared citizenship, unity and reform. This platform has to include serious reforms in the areas of security and national reconciliation. At the same time, an assistance programme will have to be set up for individual militia members wishing to either integrate into the ISF or make the transition from fighter to civilian immediately following IS’ defeat. This joint process will allow for the gradual dissolution of the PMF as the functioning of the Iraqi state improves, cooperation and unity is advanced, and the army grows in strength. During this time the government can stop colluding with the PMF and begin incorporating, containing, and eventually suppressing the various groups within the PMF based on the level of loyalty to the state that the group holds. Only then can a comprehensive demobilisation and reintegration programme based on formal agreements with all militias be launched as an ultimate solution to Iraq’s problem with militias and subnationalisms. It is crucial that this programme is adapted to fit the local context and that the government of Iraq can exert primary control over it. Accordingly, some conventional standards of DDR programming may have to be deviated from in order for this programme to be successful.
  • Topic: Security, Nationalism, Military Strategy, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad
  • Author: Irene Costantini
  • Publication Date: 03-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: On Monday 20 February, Muqtada al-Sadr announced a 29-point roadmap for governing Mosul after the eventual liberation from Islamic State (IS), which appears closer than ever considering the ongoing offensive in the western part of the city. In October last year, Ammar al-Hakim proposed a political reconciliation plan, the “Historical Settlement”, as a template for governing Iraq in view of the defeat of IS. Though both are drawn from the Shia leadership and represent the Shia electorate, the two leaders and their constituencies have noticeable differences. A third pole is represented by the non-reconciliatory vision of Nuri al-Maliki, who has so far obstructed any dialogue in the country. In light of the Sunni’s weak political leadership and the Kurds being distracted by internal discordance as well as talks about independence, the Shia Block is realistically the key determinant for national reconciliation to occur in Iraq. However, its internal divisions make it a problematic and non-unitary interlocutor for national, regional, and international initiatives. This policy brief analyses what the common and competing positions of the plans that have been announced so far within the Block are. The major shortcoming of both al-Sadr’s and al-Hakim’s initiatives is the political heritage that they attach to a national reconciliation plan. Free from such heritage, al-Abadi, the fourth pole in the Shia Block, has yet to reinvigorate his initial push for reconciliation and articulate it in a comprehensive plan, one that may find support among a broader spectrum of domestic and international actors. Competing positions A key difference between al-Hakim’s and al-Sadr’s plans is first of all their political inception. Al-Hakim is the key promoter of the “Historical Settlement”, but the plan is, in theory, the expression of the National Iraqi Alliance, the large but loose Shia Block holding the majority of parliamentary seats. Elected as chairman in September, after years of tensions over the Block’s leadership, al-Hakim will hold the position for a year based on the rotational presidency arrangement struck upon his election. In contrast, al-Sadr’s plan is an expression of his own political will. Al-Sadr’s political block, al-Ahrar, has boycotted NIA since spring 2016 and rejoined in October in what was most probably a political calculation when talks about provincial elections were underway. There is so far no indication that al-Sadr is promoting the plan among Iraqi parties and it has received almost no traction, but the announcement itself can be seen as another sign of competing visions within the Shia Block. A second key difference is their scope. Al-Hakim’s plan (based on leaked versions of it, as no official document was released) is intentionally vague. In all, the plan sets principles, parameters and steps forward, which participating parties must adhere to before a dialogue could start under the auspices of the UN. So far, the UN has repeated that “there is no UN draft or UN initiative. It is still an Iraqi national initiative”, waiting most probably for the document to gain traction among the Iraqi leadership. On the other hand, al-Sadr’s plan calls for a number of initiatives, which include a national dialogue, but extend to measures targeting socio-economic issues and the security apparatus, most of them as vague as the ones in the “Historical Settlement” document. The two plans are also different with relation to a number of specific points. Al-Sadr sets as a condition the withdrawal of all foreign forces from the country. The document is explicit in calling for ending Turkish presence in the country (by diplomatic means, or otherwise) but also for ensuring “the exit of all occupying forces and the “friendly” ones, so to speak, from Iraqi lands”. This is in line with al-Sadr’s past position on opposing foreign presence in Iraq, including through armed struggle. However, the leader allows for UN engagement in settling the dispute with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and eventually supervising the political process in the liberated areas. The engagement of the UN is more pronounced in al-Hakim’s plan, which gives the UN the role of submitting a detailed strategy based on consultation with key representatives, and in collaboration with Jordan, a key country hosting the Sunni opposition to the current Shia-dominated government. Another difference in the documents concerns whether any plan for the future of Iraq should occur within or outside the electoral process. Al-Sadr asserts that a dialogue for national reconciliation, as he sees it, “should not be based on political and electoral grounds but on grounds that guarantee civil and social peace”. In al-Hakim’s document, instead, the “binding recognition of the results of free and fair elections” indicates the opposite attitude. This point is certainly important considering next year’s election and it may reflect the two parties’ electoral weight in the country. Furthermore, in al-Hakim’s document the call for refraining from “the practice of duplication in attitudes towards the legitimacy of the Iraqi political system (a foot in the government and a foot in the opposition), including the cessation of instigation against the legitimacy of the existing political system internally and externally” is something that al-Sadr could take quite personally, given his confrontation with the current government. Converging positions The reaffirmation of Iraq’s unity is shared by both plans. According to al-Hakim’s, “the aim of the initiative is “to maintain and strengthen Iraq as an independent state that enjoys sovereignty, unity, federalism and democracy and that brings all of its people and components together.” The same necessity is recognised in al-Sadr’s roadmap as preserving “the unity, security, and sovereignty of Iraq”. Al-Hakim’s Historical Settlement goes perhaps even further, by affirming as one of the parameters: “faith and commitment in words and deed to the unity of Iraq … and reject its division under any circumstances”. This is a point that is certainly problematic for the KRG’s aspiration for independence. Al-Hakim and al-Sadr therefore present a similar vision on a number of other issues. First, they both envision the involvement of tribal leaders, social elites, religions, sects, minorities, and ethnic groups in the process of settling the ethno-sectarian tensions that have brought the country to the verge of collapse. They both exclude from the process Baathists and terrorists, al-Hakim extending this exclusion to Takfiri groups, defined as groups who label others as apostates. A key difference on this point could, however, emerge in the final draft of the document. Indeed, al-Hakim excludes the “Baath Party”, potentially leaving the door open to some Baathists to be involved in their personal capacity. Al-Sadr, instead, has referred so far to the Baathists as a whole, most probably excluding any form of consultation with them. With regard to the security situation, al-Sadr’s plan expresses the need not to interfere in neighbouring countries, alluding to the involvement of Iraqi elements within the Hashd al-Shaabi in the fight against IS in Syria (such as Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Kata’ib Hezbollah, Saraya al-Khorasani), something al-Sadr is opposed to. The need for non-interference is also explicitly mentioned in al-Hakim’s document. Their position on the domestic role of the Hashd al-Shaabi is, however, less clear, with al-Sadr, for instance, calling for integrating the “disciplined elements with the Hashd in the security forces”. The law regulating the Hashd al-Shaabi (November 2016) has already caused a harsh reaction from Sunni elements strengthening the rejection of al-Hakim’s plan by the National Forces Alliance, the biggest Sunni block in the parliament. Identifying shortcomings and conditions for national reconciliation There are many things lacking in both documents. One of these missing elements is the result of the avoidance of concretely addressing the governing mechanisms in Nineveh in the future, a point which will be key in settling reconciliation within the governorate but also countrywide. Secondly, despite calls for an inclusive process, the “Historical Settlement” as well as al-Sadr’s roadmap appear to be too focused on party politics, and so far there appears to be little engagement with bottom-up initiatives, another fundamental condition for national reconciliation to succeed. Furthermore, in the absence of a clear time framework, any reconciliation initiative runs the risk of becoming trapped in the electoral game in the midst of the next parliamentary and provincial elections which are likely to be scheduled for April 2018. Not only will this not serve the purpose of reconciliation, it will further discredit similar mechanisms in the eyes of the population, making reconciliation even more difficult. Most importantly, al-Hakim and al-Sadr only represent part of the Shia Block, whose cohesion has been undermined over the last years by personal projects; polarisation within the electorate; and more recently the presence of armed groups––the Hashd al-Shaabi––partly a product of existing and perhaps newly forming political parties. The brokers of the two plans are far from being perceived as super partes actors, as both al-Hakim and al-Sadr were active (and problematic) parts in the political makeshift of Iraq after 2003. Beside these two brokers, the third pole, the Dawa Party, is still commanding political power within the Block and in the country. Al-Maliki is certainly not a realistic candidate under whom any reconciliation plan will succeed. He has already labelled the “Historical Settlement” as “treason against the Iraqi people”. Despite the Dawa Party’s nationalistic credentials still being strong, at least among a segment of society, al-Maliki is associated with the dark days of the advancement of IS, something that inevitably weakened his position. Despite coming from the same party, al-Abadi has the credentials of having faced, so far successfully, IS and retaken important swathes of Iraqi territories. Al-Abadi had already come to office with a commitment to pursue a national reconciliation project. The passing of the General Amnesty Law in August 2016 is an indication of this commitment together with the work of the National Reconciliation Committee in the Prime Minister’s Office (NRC). By revitalising his initial push for reconciliation, al-Abadi has the opportunity to build upon common positions in existing plans and reconcile them with other demands coming from the Iraqi society. A comprehensive plan coming from al-Abadi would certainly have a more likely chance of finding support among a broader spectrum of domestic and international actors.
  • Topic: Elections, Islamic State, Sunni, Shia
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Mosul
  • Author: Tomáš Kaválek
  • Publication Date: 06-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: This report concerns the political and security situation in the district of Shingal after the summer of 2014. Specifically, it focuses on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) presence in the area. In August 2014, the Peshmerga forces hastily withdrew from Shingal district due to the IS (Islamic State) advance. The Yazidi population of the district was then exposed to atrocities at the hands of IS. These events damaged trust between the Yazidi population and the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government). The PKK entered the stage in Shingal district and aided Yazidis at the onset of IS’ advance. It capitalised on its image of being the saviour of Yazidis and promptly began to build governance and armed structures in the district. The area has thus become an arena of competition between the KRG (especially the Kurdistan Democratic Party– KDP) and Baghdad. PKK’s increasing presence challenges the KDP’s strong influence in the district. The ongoing power struggle in Shingal district also takes place against a background of wider regional competition. The report utilises Zachariah Mampilly’s theoretical framework in order to analyse the effectiveness of rebel governance. It is argued that the model used for PKK-linked political and armed structures in Shingal district follows the PKK’s governance model as it is established in PKK’s leader Abdullah Öcalan’s ideological works and is currently in place in Rojava, run by PKK-affiliated actors. Furthermore, building upon Anna Arjona’s typology of rebel governments, it is asserted that the PKK-linked governance in Shingal district has become, since the summer of 2014, increasingly effective and entrenched despite certain shortcomings stemming mainly from lack of resources to satisfy all the needs of the population. Ultimately, the PKK-linked civilian governance structures represented by the Self-Administration Council and the armed structures of the Sinjar Protection Units find fertile ground among the Yazidi population for their project of self-administration and self-defence for Yazidis in Shingal district. The PKK-linked forces’ influence goes beyond a mere military presence and thus poses a new reality in which the PKK-linked forces are indeed actors which must be taken into consideration in future political arrangements in Shingal district. While outlining the competing interests in the district of Shingal, the paper provides a set of recommendations to the PKK, the PKK-linked actors in the district, the KRG, the GoI, Turkey, and the US with an aim of promoting stabilisation and the well-being of the local population. The best case scenario would include at least partial demilitarisation of the situation in the district while shifting the competition for the population between the GoI, the PKK-linked forces and the KRG into a non-violent domain, instead focusing on trying to win the hearts and minds of the population. Competition within the scope of Iraqi law with an aim of generating as much genuine popular support as possible in the upcoming elections in Iraq is the way forward. In the long-term, the PKK-linked forces should engage in democratic electoral competition with the KRG and aim for integration into governance and administrative structures as per Iraqi law. Both sides could then work on improving their standing electorally.
  • Topic: Governance, Democracy, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan
  • Author: Khogir Wirya
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: With the military defeat of the Islamic State (IS) in Mosul city, the task to liberate Tel Afar continues to loom large. The fall of Tal Afar to IS on 16 June, 2014 has severely damaged the already strained Sunni/Shia relations in the area, as well as Turkmen relations with other ethno-religious communities. Most of Tal Afar’s Sunni and Shia population were displaced during the crisis. However, some Sunni Turkmen decided not to flee and remained in Tal Afar. Although much is still unclear, it is widely believed that a number of Sunni Turkmen from Tal Afar joined IS and stand accused of having committed war crimes in their name. Reconciling communities and repairing social ties are critical needs in ensuring stability and preventing the onset of renewed cycles of violence in the future. Such processes however, can only be advanced through consultation with local populations regarding their needs and vision for the future. The focus of this report is therefore on Turkmen perceptions of needs, opportunities, and obstacles to reconciliation within their own community as well as with other communities. The report finds that Turkmen from Tal Afar overwhelmingly conceptualise reconciliation as a security objective that is important for enabling the safe return of the displaced. At least in the short term therefore, participants prioritised reconciliation between the Sunni and Shia Turkmens over reconciliation with other communities living elsewhere.Interviews revealed strongly overlapping views on how sectarian violence had emerged and escalated in the past, and how it should be addressed in the future. Because reconciliation in Tal Afar requires communities to reject and actively combat extremist ideologies, the process must encompass mechanisms to enable these communities to resist the influence of radical organisations. According to the majority of both Sunni and Shia participants, the first step in this process is the inclusion of Sunnis in the security sector. Creating an inclusive, formal security sector comprised of all elements of society is seen as the main need for enabling reconciliation in the future. Serious issues of distrust, however, appears to stand in the way. The process of building trust between Sunni and Shia Turkmen faces additional challenges stemming from the fact that both communities continue to perceive each other as serving an exogenous agenda. While Shias suspect Sunnis of alignment with Turkey, Sunnis for their part see the Shias as an extension of Iranian interests in the area. Nonetheless, both communities clearly labelled security sector reform as the first step in stabilising the area after liberation, and expressed the hope that any process would not be thwarted by external actors. In terms including Sunnis in the security sector, Shias expressed concerns about infiltration of government institutions by extremist elements. This obstacle can partly be overcome by recruiting Sunnis in the force tasked with liberating Tal Afar. For the Shias, Sunni participation constitutes a vetting mechanism which can identify those who are committed to peaceful relations and oppose extremist ideologies. Sunni inclusion in the operation to liberate Tal Afar will also increase inter-group contact and cooperation, thus contributing to the formation of shared experiences and long-term objectives. Although intra-community reconciliation is clearly prioritised over reconciliation with other communities, participants also reflected on ways to improve relations with the neighbouring Eyzidi community. The liberation of Tal Afar will present opportunities for doing so. Criminal investigations into the crimes committed by IS as well as other actors should be initiated promptly. Sunni tribal leaders must strongly condemn crimes committed by members of their tribe and cooperate closely with law enforcement to ensure accountability can be imposed. However, it is equally important to publicise positive stories of Turkmen from Tal Afar who have risked their own lives to resist IS and help free some Eyzidi captives. Highlighting these accounts can serve an important role in countering perceptions of collective guilt towards the Sunni Turkmen community in Tal Afar.
  • Topic: Islamic State, Ethnicity, Sunni, Shia
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Mosul
  • Author: Khogir Wirya
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: The Sabean-Mandaean community in Iraq is threatened with extinction. As a result of unabated kidnappings, robberies and killings, much of the community has been displaced from Baghdad and areas in the south of Iraq to the Kurdistan Region and Kirkuk. Considering the particular vulnerability of the community,and the continued security threats present in their areas of origin, community members are currently not considering going back. After the defeat of the Islamic State, the Iraqi government should seize the window of opportunity to promote coexistence, religious pluralism and citizenship. In the short term, however, the Kurdistan Regional Government can play an important role in supporting the continued survival of the Sabean-Mandaean community by adopting a long-term vision towards their settlement in the Region and facilitate their integration in Kurdistan society. The international community who are concerned with religious pluralism in Iraq should seek to support the KRG in its approach and improve the community’s connectedness with its diaspora by reducing restrictions on visiting visas for countries hosting a large number of Sabean-Mandaeans.
  • Topic: Security, Democracy, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Baghdad, Kurdistan
  • Author: Dlawer Ala'Aldeen
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: This year is the 25th anniversary of the election of the first Parliament and government of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq(KRI). Thanks to the safe haven that the United States and its European allies created in 1991 to protect the displaced Kurdish population from Baghdad’s brutal attacks, the Kurds turned a crisis into an opportunity to build a forward-looking nation with democratic aspirations. The journey was a tough one, with many successes and failures, but U.S.-KRI relations grew stronger and developed into a mutually rewarding partnership. The United States continued to protect the Iraqi Kurds from Saddam Hussein’s regime in 1990s and ensured that they would have their fair share in the post-Saddam Iraq. The U.S. once again came to the rescue of the KRI in the face of the Islamic State (ISIS) onslaught in 2014 and continued its support to date. The Kurds have reciprocated with unreserved loyalty and solid support for U.S. policies in Iraq. Peshmerga forces became indispensable partners in the U.S.-led global coalition and instrumental in the ultimate military defeat of ISIS in Iraq. Some consider this KRI-U.S. partnership a tactical and temporary one, not only because ISIS is being defeated, but also because the United States will ultimately stop relying on the Kurds due to their inability, like the rest of Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, to promote the rule of law and good governance, and to control corruption, which runs unacceptably deep. However, the U.S. and the KRI can prove otherwise. For a start, the United States continues to need strategic partners in the ever-changing Middle East, where its vital interests will remain at stake. In a region that is in turmoil and where terrorism is on the rise, the U.S. and Europe face much-reduced space, presence and leverage for driving and shaping events. Regional state and sub-state actors (like the KRI) have grown in influence across borders. A multitude of nonstate actors, legitimized or not, have become increasingly influential in driving events. The KRI, lying in the heart of the Middle East, is just what the United States needs, where it is most needed. The Kurds have proven themselves skillful and dynamic survivors in a conflict zone that is overwhelmed by powerful rivals. They have strong, collaborative, love-hate relations with the Shia political elite of Iraq. They share a long border with the previously ISIS-occupied Sunni Arab territories, where the challenge of stabilization is greatest. They accommodated the majority of the displaced Sunni Arabs and other ethnic and religious minorities during the ISIS war. Internationally, despite the complexity and sensitive nature of the Middle East’s politics, the political parties of the KRI have actively engaged and maintained relatively good neighborly relationships with both Iran and Turkey. Being a Muslim-majority country and having been part of Iraq, the KRI leaders have had unhindered access to most of the Arab countries. On the issue of KRI’s internal governance challenges, the United States can help a great deal via constructive engagement. The KRI, as a small, emerging nation, remains vulnerable in the world’s toughest neighborhood. This gives the U.S. plenty of leverage that it has never used effectively. In fact, the U.S. has the same kind of leverage with all of its allies in the Middle East but was never willing to use it in fear of negative reactions. On the contrary, the previous U.S. administration chose to almost totally disengage with the region, particularly Iraq, and virtually abandoned its obligation to spread the values of liberty and the rule of law in the Middle East. The consequences were disastrous, forcing the U.S. to return and face a war against the most radical of terrorists. It might be rare for politicians to request or accept conditional help, but the KRI leaders do when such requests come from trusted friends. They are, and have been, responsive to terms and conditions that are linked to good governance, designed to help their country become a better, stronger and more prosperous place. KRG leaders viewed these conditions as incentives and opportunities to reform. Many used them to convince their fellow leaders to endorse change. In short, tough love works with the Kurds and the United States should help the KRI become the partner it deserves, and the partner KRI deserves to be.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Military Strategy, Sunni, Shia
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan
  • Author: Khogir Wirya
  • Publication Date: 08-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: With the complete military defeat of IS in Iraq underway, the process of the return of internally displaced people (IDPs) faces enormous challenges. IS’s swift seizure of control of vast swathes of territories created new fissures and exacerbated old animosities and grievances among the variegated communities of the Nineveh Plain. Members of certain communities joined IS, while others showed sympathy to the group, causing rising social tensions among the communities. The war against IS also prompted certain communities to form their own armed forces, which can now be used to challenge rival communities and impose one-sided solutions by virtue of force. While no rigorous plan for the post-IS situation is available, and with Iraq facing economic and political hardships, the region’s dynamics are likely to continue to be conflictual, and communal relations may worsen further. Understanding how communities perceive reconciliation and conflict is a key element to ensure the return of IDP’s in the future. This report focuses on the Shabak community, an abstruse ethno-religious group living on the Nineveh Plain just east of Mosul, and how they perceive reconciliation and conflict. Various international minority rights organisations recognise Shabaks as one of the five main minority groups most affected by the recent conflict beginning in June 2014. At present, the Shabak community is comprised of both Sunni and Shi’ites, yet the community’s religious identity has significantly evolved over time, moving from a distinctly heterodox to a more orthodox set of beliefs and rituals. This, combined with their geographic location in the disputed territories in close proximity to various other minorities, make their views on conflict and reconciliation particularly relevant for future coexistence in Nineveh. One of the main findings of this report is that the Shabak community suffers from four main conflicts. Two relate to relations with other ethno-religious communities, namely Sunni Arabs and Christians, and the other two concern divisions within the community itself, that is, religious and ethnic identity. The rise of IS has impacted conflict dynamics in two distinct ways. On the one hand, it has led to a proliferation of armed groups, significantly increasing the possibility of a violent escalation. On the other hand, the complete rupture of the pre-2014 status quo has resulted in an intensification of identity discussions, which is linked to the settlement of the administrative status of disputed territories on the Nineveh Plain. The community’s perception of justice and security is also explored in this report. Interviews reveal that the community is fearful of forced displacement and revenge acts after their areas are liberated, while some expressed doubts about the ability of the security forces and the judiciary system in place to deal with the post liberation environment.
  • Topic: Religion, Islamic State, Conflict, Recovery
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Dlawer Ala'Aldeen
  • Publication Date: 08-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: Since the 1960s, successive governments in Baghdad considered the Kurdish-majority areas of Iraq a war zone, and deprived them of investment. So when, in 1992, Kurds elected their first parliament and government, the politicians inherited a half-ruined country, with more than 4,000 destroyed villages and just one small university to serve a traumatised population of more than 4 million. Educationally, the biggest priority for the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) was to rapidly expand school capacity. New universities and technical institutes with diverse programmes were also established de novo. Currently, 14 public and 15 private universities are fully operational, accommodating 165,414 students in 2016, compared with 10,166 in 1992. Investing in quality was the next big challenge. In 2010, the Kurdish government that I was part of introduced a comprehensive system of quality assurance and accreditation, including a performance assessment of all staff and institutions that later became the basis for the annual ranking of KRI universities. Previously, no such system had existed in Iraq, and standards were on the decline – especially after the Iraqi regime change in 2003. Continuing political, security and economic crises, as well as poorly designed policies, corruption and over-politicised administrations were partly to blame. As in other Middle Eastern countries, the Iraqi and KRI governments make all senior university appointments and manage university budgets. This inevitably permits external interference in academic affairs, at the expense of quality and efficiency. There have been serious attempts to move towards making universities totally independent from government, but it has not been easy to accomplish. However, we have succeeded in making the KRI university admissions system electronic and transparent, to ensure equal opportunity. Curricula and teaching methods have been modernised, with greater emphasis on critical thinking, scientific debate, mastering information technology and learning other languages, particularly English and Arabic. The rapid proliferation of educational institutions and the subsequent increase in student populations threatened to outpace the system’s ability to prepare an adequate number of teaching staff. This is where research-intensive universities and other centres of excellence in Europe and America helped. In 2010, it was mandated that all PhD candidates should spend up to 18 months in international centres abroad. And the KRG launched a $400 million programme to send more than 4,500 talented graduates to study for higher degrees at prestigious universities abroad. Meanwhile, existing faculty were given incentives to take sabbatical leave, spend time in prestigious universities abroad and to co-publish with colleagues there. Such arrangements can be mutually beneficial. While the local academics and institutions have great needs in terms of connectivity, sense of direction and research leadership, they can offer scientific material, data and unique insight into their local issues. Academic leaders of post-conflict countries need first-hand exposure to best practice in higher education and research. They need to understand how independent universities work in a democracy. They need help to become research-active and to produce high-impact publications. They need to think globally and act locally, solving their countries’ problems through collaborative research. Countries such as KRI are resource-rich and can sustain the funding of their side of collaborations. In addition to its full-fee paying scholarship and sabbatical programmes, the KRG also pledged in 2010 to match-fund external grants for research projects in the KRI. These have led to numerous joint projects, publications and supervision of research students. Many of the external supervisors have become external examiners and assessors of university performance in the KRI. The current security and economic crises have slowed progress, but this is a transient phase. These investments must be maintained as the situation eases. Without strong higher education, Kurdistan will never stand tall even as it moves towards full nationhood.
  • Topic: Development, Education, Political stability, Higher Education
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan
  • Author: Yerevan Saeed
  • Publication Date: 09-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: On 25 September, residents of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) will cast their votes in a referendum that may trigger an official process of separating Kurdistan from Iraq. International friends and foes alike have opposed the controversial Kurdish move, contending that the referendum will fuel further instability in Iraq, and cause repercussions across the Middle East. The Kurdish bid for independence is not unique, however. Ethnic groups in Asia, Europe, and Africa have in the past pursued their own dreams of statehood — some with success, while others ended in failure. Whatever the outcome, the process is often costly in terms of both its human toll and economically. For that reason, the secession of any region from its parent state has to be justified on strategic, political, and economic terms. For their part, Kurdish leadership asserts that Baghdad’s mentality of power monopoly has not changed and the long-term potential for future violence against Kurds remains high. For them, the only viable, albeit risky, path is to seek complete sovereignty. The stakes are high all round, and the international community could have a constructive role to play. Conversely, international disengagement leaves both Baghdad and Erbil exposed to greater uncertainty in the near future. Iraq and Kurdistan could follow the model of Kosovo, East Timor, or South Sudan, all of which realised their statehood but to varying degrees of stability; or, instead, the catastrophic pathways taken by the Biafra region of Nigeria and Katanga in Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Though South Sudan is still reeling from its civil war and ongoing territorial disputes, international intervention has been key in preventing clashes between Khartoum and the new state. Some important steps included the signing of the North/South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, and the active participation of the United Nations in the referendum process in 2011. Likewise, international support was a determinant in amicable separation of East Timor from Indonesia in UN-sponsored referendum in 1999, as well as the separation of Kosovo from Serbia in 2008. By the same token, instead of mounting further pressure on Erbil to cancel the poll, it could be more constructive for all stakeholders to assist Baghdad and Erbil to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. This is likely to be beneficial for all sides. A deal would mitigate the chance of violent conflict between Kurdish forces and the Iraqi army, and could save the UN and major powers from investing blood and treasure in case of a potential later conflict. It would also remove Kurdistan from international legal limbo and provide a more viable route for diplomatic recognition. In contrast to these experiences, the anticipated absence of international engagement means a unilateral declaration of independence by Erbil could prove costly for all sides. This is evidenced by the declaration of independence of the Biafra Region in Nigeria in 1967–1970. The Igbo-dominated region of Biafra did not hold a referendum to pursue its dream of statehood. Instead, the 300 members of the joint Consultative Assembly of chiefs and elders voted in favour of secession from Nigeria on 26 May, 1967. The following day, the same Consultative Assembly passed a binding resolution, forcing the head of the Eastern region of Nigeria, Colonel Emeka Ojukwu, to declare independence unilaterally on 30 May, 1967. Despite some international support from African and European countries, the move was met with harsh military and economic warfare against the infant republic by the Nigerian government, leading to a three year conflict. One million people, including many civilians Biafrans civilians died, primarily from starvation. Further evidence of the potential danger can be found in the case of Katanga. When Moise Tshombe declared Katanga province as an independent republic from Congo on 11 July, 1960, the move was initially supported by Belgium, and came just two weeks after the Congo’s independence. Tshombe famously said, “We are seceding from chaos,” referring to the messy state of affairs of postcolonial Congo. However, the republic, located in the mineral heartland of Congo, failed to receive diplomatic recognition — even from Belgium, and faced strong opposition from Congo and the international community. The events descended into political turmoil, and forced the UN to deploy peacekeeping forces. In addition, the competing interests and support for different groups from the US, Soviet Union, Belgium, and other powers further complicated the crisis from 1960–1965. It took three years to defeat Tshombe and reintegrate Katanga into Congo, with a high human and economic toll . Beyond these examples and above all, the right of the Kurds to pursue statehood can be historically and legally justifiable. At the dawn of the last century when the Ottoman Empire crumbled, Kurds were deprived of statehood by the Great Powers. They were subject not just to marginalisation, but to genocide as well. Even so, following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Iraqi Kurdish leaders actively participated in the political processes in Baghdad, helping rebuild the Iraqi state and contributing to the defeat of terrorism. From their point of view, Baghdad has not lived up to its commitments to the 2005 constitution. Furthermore, the Kurds in Iraq believe they have strong grounds legal for a Kurdish state. Under the UN Charter, they have the right to self-determination. Finally, legal scholars argue that the principle of “territorial integrity” — enshrined in the UN Charter — is not unbreakable, should a country oppress a particular ethnic group and refuse to provide equal citizenship. International and regional powers have expressed understanding for the Kurdish aspirations for statehood, but are concerned the result could lead to violence. However, if instability is the concern, they are well-positioned to facilitate an amicable outcome between Erbil and Baghdad. Kurdish leaders have said that they have reached a point of no return with regard to their status quo within Iraq. Yet, they have shown flexibility in a willingness to postpone the referendum, should the international community offer alternatives or agree to officially support a legally binding referendum in the future. Indeed on 14 September, 2017, envoys of the US, UK and UN, in coordination with Baghdad, presented an ‘alternative to the referendum’ to the KRG President. Details of the ‘alternative’ is not known but short of providing political and economic incentives and security assurances, it is hard to see the current momentum for the referendum coming to an end
  • Topic: United Nations, Election watch, Conflict, Independence
  • Political Geography: Africa, Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan
  • Author: Khogir Wirya
  • Publication Date: 09-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: This report is about perceptions of reconciliation and conflict among the Christians in Iraq. Being a religious minority group in a country that has been fraught with conflicts and instability, this community, like other minorities in Iraq, endured suppression, displacement, and degradation. This, in addition to the weakening rule of law, has had an inverse impact on their communal relations, causing many to migrate. Furthermore, the Islamic State’s (IS) invasion of large swathes of land in the Nineveh Plain, where large numbers of Christians live, was yet another severe blow inflicted upon this community. The findings of this study reveal that the Christian community has had a conflictual relationship with the Shabaks, another minority group, in the Nineveh Plain well before IS’s emergence in 2014. The interviewees claim that the Shabaks encroached on their lands in an attempt to undermine the Sunnis in Mosul, serve external agendas and change the demography of the area. This report also shows that the Christians have disagreements with the Sunni Arabs, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and the Central government of Iraq (CGI). In order to fend off the rising Shia dominance in the Nineveh Plain, Sunnis are partly blamed for increasing the level of violence in the area. Many Christians held grievances against KRG’s policies in the Nineveh Plain before 2013. They argue that in its attempts to shield influence against Baghdad, the KRG caused friction and fragmentation among the Christians. As for the CGI, the interviewees expressed mistrust since it was unable to protect them from IS’s onslaught. In the eyes of Christians, the security situation after liberation does not portend well. The Shia Shabaks are thought to pose a security concern in the Nineveh Plain because of their involvement with Shia armed forces while there are Christian armed groups as well. Baghdad and Erbil have not engaged in debating future control of the security of the Nineveh Plains. Therefore, they see the potential for eruption of violence which may inflict great damage on reconciliation efforts. In short, the dynamics in Nineveh Plain were not stable before June 2014. Inter and intra-communal relations were strained, the political landscape was divisive and the quality of services was poor. The KRG and Baghdad are usually blamed for the overall pre-crisis climate as they were competing for hegemony. The ramifications of that unhealthy competition were manifold. Polarisation, neglect, underdevelopment, and strained relationships are just some. IS’s invasion strained the relations further and a return to the status quo ante means protracted conflicts and further instability. The bigger danger is that more and more Christians would leave the country should the situation remain unchanged.
  • Topic: Religion, Islamic State, Christianity, Sunni, Shia
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Yasir Kuoti
  • Publication Date: 10-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: On 25 September 2017, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held a historic, if contentious, referendum in the three Kurdistan Region’s provinces (Erbil, Duhok, and Sulimanyiah) and disputed territories, including Kirkuk. Notwithstanding the moral grounds for Kurdish self-determination, and despite the Kurds having voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence, the unilateral move was met with strong backlash form varied opponents, for varied reasons. The Iraqi government, parliament and Supreme Court in Baghdad come out against the referendum calling it “illegitimate,” “unconstitutional,” “destabilizing” and “untimely”, as did Turkey, Iran, many western countries and international institutions including the United Nations and European Union. In a retaliatory response, Baghdad moved to impose a host of punitive measures against the KRG. These included the decision by the civil aviation authority of Iraq to halt international flights to and from Erbil and Sulimanyiah airports on September 29, 2017. Now a month into the referendum, Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, a perceived moderate Shiite, continues to face a mounting pressure from Iraq’s parliament and political parties to take tougher measures against the KRG. In exact, the issue of disputed territories took a center stage as the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), backed by the Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU), moved to reinstitute federal authority in Kurdish-held areas in Kirkuk, Nineveh, Salahddin, and Diyala governorates. The referendum and post-referendum events grew fast over the past few weeks, and it is difficult to undo them for a host of legal and political considerations. Playing the blame game now is not only frustrating, but also impeding to progress. Therefore, it is more constructive that Baghdad and Erbil take steps to calm down emotions and pave the path for meaningful dialogue. Irrespective of what Baghdad leaders think of the referendum or its legality, they cannot take away from the fact that millions of Kurds cast their votes in favor of independence. The Kurds have legitimate fears about the sectarian direction in which the country is heading, a view that is also shared by non-Kurdish Iraqis, particularly Sunni Arabs and many Shiite Arabs, including Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Such fears need to be acknowledged and dealt with, not dismissed. Baghdad should also take measures to improve communications with the KRG, to mitigate future fears by Kurds. Certainly, a drive behind the timing of the referendum was the fear, real or perceived, by some Kurds that with the defeat of IS, Baghdad will turn focus to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) to deprive it of its gains. Erbil must recognize that Iraq’s constitution of 2005, which Kurdish voters have largely backed, gave a broad autonomy to Kurdistan Region and unequivocally affirmed that federal authorities have the constitutional duty to “preserve the unity [and] integrity…of Iraq and its federal democratic system.” Kurdish leaders, and many Iraqis too, have issues with the constitution and the political process it stipulated, but in the absence of a better framework, it remains the law of the land. Erbil should also take a leading role in mitigating the fallout from the referendum. The KRG leaders should accept that the referendum has backfired where the best outcome, for the short term at least, is negotiations with Baghdad for a democratic and federal Iraq. Therefore, the KRG might choose to publically demand the implementation of Iraqi constitution. This does not take away from the strategic and aspirational value of the referendum, which is expedient for pushing Kurdish demands over disputed areas, broader autonomy, and other issues. Meanwhile, the KRG leadership would benefit form focusing on its internal challenges including the need to address intra-Kurdish rivalries among political parties, empowering institutions, strengthening the rule of law, and initiating economic reforms. Such political and economic reforms will improve KRG’s negotiating positions with Baghdad. The referendum has given rise to unprecedented political and military tensions between the federal government of Iraq and the KRG. With the mobilization of the ISF, backed by the PMUs, to reclaim federal control over disputed territories, the situation risks igniting an armed confrontation between the two sides in one disputed area or another, especially if Baghdad decides to swing the pendulum too far. Given these developments, the only sensible way forward is for Baghdad and Erbil to make negotiations a priority. It is essential that talks focus not only on procedural and technical issues such as budget, oil sales, and fair distribution of resources, but, more importantly, on the primary issue that divided Baghdad and Erbil and helped trigger the referendum: corruption and sectarianism in the Iraqi state. Iraq’s political system is increasingly turning into an ethno-sectarian battle, which has been the feature of post-2003 Iraq except that it has become much more abrasive in recent years. Political parties throughout Iraq are structuring themselves to whip up sectarian and ethnic divisions to varying extents of extremism. Under the system, each party has become associated with its identity where there is little to no space to an overarching Iraqi national identity. Parties have become accustomed to not only make their constituents polarized along ethnic and sectarian lines, but also make them fearful of fellow countrymen. This state of affairs calls for an urgent action; else cycles of disputes and violence are likely to resurface. Interestingly, the fallout from the referendum has also provided opportunities for dialogue between the KRG and Baghdad. Indeed, the KRG Cabinet in its meeting of 19 October reemphasized the need for negotiations without pre-conditions and that the KRG is ready for dialogue. If and when reconciliations efforts take place, it is critical they address revising the constitution and structure of government. Negotiations are far better when they are outcome-driven with defined timelines, addressing the need for a non-sectarian and non-divisive arrangement. Prime Minister Abadi must seize on his successes to steer the country’s ship toward a unified vision that can bring about the will to address problems rooted in the political system, which feeds on ethno-sectarian divisions and is the greatest barrier to development. The international community, particularly the United States, has historic opportunities to positively influence the future of Iraq by articulating a peaceful settlement to the crisis and encouraging meaningful negotiations between Baghdad and the KRG. Furthermore, the U.S. should promote dialogue within the major political parties in the KRI while leveraging its influence to redirect attention toward liberating remaining IS strongholds in western Iraq. The U.S is also encouraged to provide Iraq with legal and technical assistance needed to launch reforms and national reconciliations initiatives. The U.S and Iraqi leaders need to work together to dispel fears held by minorities, encouraging them to integrate into a better version of federal and democratic Iraq. Being part of the coalition government in Baghdad, Kurds have a key role to play in making progress toward national reconciliations and reforms.
  • Topic: Self Determination, Democracy, Independence, Reconciliation
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad, Kurdistan