Iraq’s Supreme Federal Court on Sunday ruled against calls by Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers to delay a parliamentary election, expected to be called for May, to allow hundreds of thousands of people displaced by war to return home.
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Daud Salman and his family stayed put in their Iraqi village despite years of regular clashes between tribes, but when a stray bullet wounded his son, it was time to move.
Feuds between the region's half-dozen tribes often flare into pitched battles with assault rifles and machineguns, killing bystanders and driving a never-ending cycle of revenge attacks.
Security forces, fearing reprisals, rarely intervene.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met on Saturday with the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani for the first time since conflict broke out over a Kurdish independence referendum, officials said.
The Kurdish referendum on Sept. 25, which produced an overwhelming ‘yes’ for independence, angered Baghdad and Iraq’s neighbors Turkey and Iran, which have their own restive Kurdish minorities, and brought a rebuke from the United States and European Union, the Iraqi Kurds’ Western supporters.
At the meeting, Abadi renewed his conditions for lifting restrictions imposed on the Kurdistan region after the referendum, including a direct international air travel ban.
The Iraqi government has declared victory over ISIS, and President Donald Trump has taken credit for the Islamic caliphate's collapse.
"ISIS is now giving up, they are giving up, there are raising their hands, they are walking off. Nobody has ever seen that before," said the president during an October interview on WMAL's "The Chris Plante Show."
But experts both in and outside the U.S. government warn that ISIS remains a lethal force, as shown by a double suicide bombing in Baghdad Monday that killed 100. As the caliphate has collapsed the number of active fighters in Syria and Iraq may have dropped below 3,000, there are many more ISIS loyalists still on the scene.
The Islamic State on Wednesday claimed responsibility for the twin suicide bombings in Baghdad this week that killed at least 27 people. It was the first major attack in Iraq’s capital since the government declared victory over the terrorist group last month.
The nearly simultaneous explosions occurred minutes apart just after 6 a.m. on Monday, with the first assailant detonating his explosives in a square where day laborers were gathering to find work. The second bomber set off his explosives as people rushed to help the wounded, according to a traffic police officer who witnessed the episode. That sequence is a well-established pattern for the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, and is aimed at killing the maximum number of civilians.
But the statement released on the messaging app Telegram had a number of errors, including the location of Monday’s attack. It said that it had occurred at Aden Square in Baghdad, where the police said an attack was foiled on Saturday, rather than in Tayaran Square, where Monday’s explosions took place. That error, and the delay in issuing a claim of responsibility, suggests that the Islamic State’s media apparatus has been disrupted in the period since the group lost nearly 98 percent of its territory in Iraq and Syria.
Over the course of 2017, the Islamic State (or ISIS) suffered defeat after devastating defeat at the hands of the United States and its allies, culminating in the seizure last October of the group’s declared capital of Raqqa, Syria. As of today, the group controls no major population center in either Iraq or Syria. Yet this does not mean that ISIS no longer poses a significant danger. With the end of the physical caliphate, ISIS’ tactics are evolving. It is more and more likely to avoid major battlefield engagements and instead resort to terrorist attacks in the Middle East, other conflict zones, and the West. U.S. policy needs to change quickly to meet the evolving threat, both in terms of its operations in the region and of its counterterrorism priorities at home.
In order to remain militarily relevant, ISIS increasingly prefers to conduct isolated suicide attacks and hit-and-run operations. In early January, the group’s official media wing published a list celebrating nearly 800 such attacks in 2017, including ones against the Iraqi military (nearly 500), Kurdish forces in Syria (136), and the Assad regime and its allies (120), as well as a few dozen against moderate opposition groups in Syria. Although many of these attacks occurred during operations to liberate Mosul and Raqqa, it’s clear that ISIS leaders view this type of strike as the group’s best battlefield option for the foreseeable future. Indeed, the early January ISIS drone attack on Russian military facilities in Syria is another concrete example of the group’s desire to inflict as much pain as possible on its enemies while avoiding large-scale direct military engagement. Even ISIS itself recognizes that the days of seizing and holding cities are behind it.
Barely a month after Baghdad declared victory over ISIL, the extremist group could still recapture areas of Iraq, especially near the border with Syria, experts and officials say.
Ali Al Bayati, a commander of the Hashed Al Shaabi paramilitary units which fought alongside Iraqi security forces in a gruelling battle against the group, said the Nimrud region of northern Iraq could "fall at any time because security there is fragile".
ISIL fighters who fled their former stronghold and took refuge to the west, in the vast desert towards the Syrian border, have since launched attacks on security forces and civilians, Mr Bayati said.
The United States supports holding Iraqi parliamentary elections on May 12 as planned by Iraq’s government, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said on Thursday, criticizing calls to postpone the vote.
“Postponing the elections would set a dangerous precedent, undermining the constitution and damaging Iraq’s long-term democratic development,” the embassy said in a statement.
The statement was published as Iraqi lawmakers were debating whether to hold the vote as planned or postpone it in order to allow hundreds of thousands of displaced people to return home to cast their ballots.
The U.S. Army chief of staff, who recently returned from a trip to Iraq, said U.S. troops there will continue to help Iraqi security forces root out Islamic State militants, but what comes after that for the Army in the war-torn country remains to be seen.
“I think the situation in Iraq is a lot different than it was three or four years ago when ISIS came rolling out of the desert and screaming down the Euphrates River Valley,” Gen. Mark Milley told reporters Jan. 17 following an Association of the U.S. Army breakfast in Arlington, Virginia.
“The caliphate, such as it was in terms of owning land, etc. — that has been destroyed. And the land that ISIS, or Daesh, controlled has been liberated. It’s back in Iraqi hands and that has reverted to what would be called sort of small-scale terrorism,” he said.
With the military campaign against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (or ISIL) in Iraq over, attention has turned to addressing the grievances and factors that gave rise to the extremist group. These include Sunni marginalization from the political process, sectarian policies that ossified community cleavages and spurred extremist ideology, economic deprivation, and ineffective governance and public service delivery. Steps are already being taken to deal with these matters. Yet if the Iraqi government and its partners are to bring about positive long-term changes that mitigate the factors giving rise to extremism, they must get a handle on a phenomenon that has often been a determining variable in the country’s peace and stability equation: tribes and tribalism.
About 75 percent of Iraq’s population is either a member or close associate of one of the country’s approximately 150 tribes. The tribes, which comprise multiple family-based clans, have wielded considerable influence since modern Iraq’s founding in 1921. In contemporary Iraq, tribes and tribalism are most prominent in Sunni areas — Anbar, Salahadin, Kirkuk, Nineveh — and the southern, mainly Shia province of Basra. Tribal leaders, called sheikhs, settle disputes within their tribes, some of which cut across ethnic and sectarian lines. Tribal networks can help members gain employment, secure government services and protect members from external threats.