Iraq

On January 27, President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order on immigration, titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” The order places a ban on the entry of foreign nationals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen for 90 days; suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days; and blocks the entry of Syrian nationals indefinitely.  

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The US-led coalition offensive to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the final major foothold of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Iraq, has progressed slowly but positively over the course of the past month. However, questions still remain whether the offensive, Operation Inherent Resolve, will prove to be a coalition of convenience that dissolves without a clear and common enemy, or if political wills in Baghdad and Erbil, both in Iraq, are able to hash out a post-conflict structure that preempts ethnic opportunists and revenge killing. The battle for Mosul may mark the culmination of a protracted effort to build some semblance of unity amidst Iraq’s factionalist disorder.

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Wisam al-Zubaidi is a member of one of Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism troops. But right now he isn’t fighting, he is in a Baghdad hospital nursing a bullet wound in his foot. At a battle east of Mosul, he and his battalion were ambushed by the extremist group known as the Islamic State, which Iraqi forces are currently fighting in northern Iraq. Some of his comrades were killed, others injured and some are still fighting; al-Zubaidi, a member of the elite troops that often fight their way forward into battle before other military units, is still telephoning his colleagues to find out what’s going on.

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In late September, the Iraqi parliament voted to dismiss Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari over corruption allegations. Zebari had led Iraq’s efforts to secure aid to manage its economic crisis, and most recently, successfully negotiated an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan for Iraq. A day after the vote, the IMF reaffirmed its commitment to work with the Iraqi government to implement the agreed upon loan. This loan is expected to assist Iraq through its current economic crisis and lay the groundwork for overdue economic reforms.

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This is Part 2 of a two-part interview.

Retired Army Gen. David H. Petraeus believes that the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, while a “generational” one, will eventually be won. The more consequential battle, he contends, is the war that will follow: for governance.

In Syria, Petraeus said, while Russia’s military intervention has vastly complicated the creation of a no-fly zone, such a plan is still “doable.”

Petraeus, an Atlantic Council board member who has commanded US-led coalition forces in Iraq and in 2003 led the 101st Airborne Division as it entered the city of Mosul, said the Iraqi forces’ campaign to retake Mosul has gained “considerable momentum.” However, he added, “the real battle is not actually the fight against the Islamic State, which I have said for some two years would be defeated without question, the real battle is the struggle after the Islamic State is cleared from these areas, the struggle for power and resources and ensuring that these are shared equitably and with the all-important guarantee of minority rights, not just of majority rule.”

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The international media often describes the city of Mosul, the capital of Ninawa province, as the Islamic State’s (ISIS) last remaining stronghold in Iraq. However, there is another major stronghold that may soon be a flashpoint between rival factions of the anti-ISIS coalition. In late October, Iraq’s Shia militias opened a new front in the military campaign against the Islamic State, aiming to liberate the city of Tal Afar, about 35 miles west of Mosul. The entrance of pro-government Shia militias—known as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU)—prompted a Turkish warning that it may intervene to protect Sunnis in Tal Afar from potential revenge killings at the hands of Shia militia forces.

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As Iraqi forces continue to push further into the Islamic State’s bastion in Mosul, the looming loss of this key city heralds the end of the Islamic caliphate as a pseudo state. The organization, however, may survive as an insurgency and more importantly through the continuity of its “ideological caliphate.”

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As the military offensive in Mosul intensifies and plans are drawn up for an assault on Raqqa, the forces opposing the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) must consider the political implications of tactical engagement, specifically, who will assume control once the terrorist group is defeated?

“When we talk about ISIS and the day after, filling the void is going to be the key factor for defeating ISIS,” said Hassan Hassan, a senior resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. He said, “ISIS as a government body has to be weighed against concern that if you expel ISIS, it will open a new conflict in Syria.”

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Turkey’s Iraq policy changed considerably in the past half-decade. Turkey has implicitly broken with its “one Iraq” policy and, since 2010, has taken steps to deepen alliances with political actors, committed to the further decentralization—and, in the longer term, break-up—of the Iraqi state. This policy is a sharp departure from Turkey’s history of advocacy for a strong, centralized Iraqi state, without an independent and strong Kurdish region.

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In today’s Iraq, political movements and politicians shy away from promoting secularism or proclaiming to be secularists. The reasons for this—and the reasons for the rise of religious (and religious identity) politics in Iraq after the 1958 coup in which the Hashemite monarchy was overthrown—are numerous and complex. Some of the main factors that may lie behind the demise of secularism and the rise of Islamism include: the failure and brutality of secular governments, including that of Saddam Hussein; the suppression of religious political movements; successive wars; international sanctions and their effect on society at large; the Saddam Regime’s "Faith Campaign" in the mid-90's during which the regime attempted to pacify the population struggling under the harshness of international sanctions by promoting religion; and the lack of public political discourse.

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