Nearly three years on from the Islamic State’s high water mark in the summer of 2015, there are several lessons that the United States and its allies can discern from the terrorist group’s meteoric rise to control large parts of Iraq and Syria to the loss of its physical caliphate late last year. The steady decline in ISIL’s fortunes is striking given the palpable fear its rise in the summer of 2014 sparked across Washington, when a common question circulating within the policy community was whether Baghdad itself might fall. Many of these takeaways will be relevant to U.S. policymakers as they attempt to prevent the group from reconstituting itself in the coming months.
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Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a decree on Thursday to induct the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) into Iraq’s regular security forces. The PMF, also known as al-Hashd al-Sha’abi, will get the same rights and privileges as the country’s other armed forces. PMF members will receive similar salaries to the members of the military, including access to military institutes and colleges. They will also be subject to Iraqi military service laws and regulations.
Giving PMF members—who played a crucial role in fending off the Islamic State— the same rights as their brethren in regular forces will prove popular for Abadi, particularly amongst his own base, especially that the decree comes two months before the parliamentary elections.
At first glance, the decision might appear to be a mere reward to the PMF, or, if looked at with more skepticism, a nod to Abadi’s Shia base ahead of the election. But a closer look at the decree’s text will reveal that it goes much further than that. What Abadi has effectively done is re-establish the prime minister’s authority over decision-making within the PMF, limit its size, and challenge the influence of pro-Iran leaders, including the PMF’s deputy chairman and its effective leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who is known for his longstanding ties with Iran.
Islamic State militants killed at least 10 people including a local Sunni tribal sheikh in two separate attacks late on Sunday in Iraq’s northern provinces of Mosul and Kirkuk, police and local officials said.
In a village near the Sunni town of Shirqat, south of Mosul, Islamists stormed the house of a tribal sheikh who led a Sunni militia that had fought against the militants, killing him, his son and two guests, police sources said.
Across northern Iraq, in places like the Nineveh Plain and Sinjar, members of the country’s ancient minorities are filtering back to towns and villages devastated during three years of occupation by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Christians, Yazidis and Shabaks, regarded as “infidels” by the now-vanquished extremists, suffered some of the greatest abuse and dislocation in Iraq’s latest spasm of violence. Even as some head home, many others have scattered to the United States, Canada, Europe and elsewhere, most likely gone for good. Still others are displaced in camps closer by, still fearful of security conditions in the neighborhoods they fled. As they seek to recover from death, destruction, and displacement, the future of Iraq’s minority communities remains precarious, particularly as the country’s biggest population groups—Shia, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds— continue to jockey for power.
If Iraq is indeed “not Iraq without its minorities,” as Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, Fareed Yasseen, put it, the country faces a critical challenge: How can Iraqis rebuild a post-ISIL state that can protect and incorporate the ethno-sectarian communities that have helped shape Iraq’s character for thousands of years?
The walls are constructed of cinder blocks, steel and concrete. Some have gates for pedestrian traffic. Others evoke the oppressive days of the Berlin Wall — towering concrete panels lined up in a row, and impassable.
The barriers snake through Tuz Khurmatu, turning it into a city of walls.
In years past, walls went up to protect against car bombs. Then Shiite Turkmens erected walls to guard against Islamic State after its resurgence in 2014. Now even after the jihadis have been driven out of the city, the walls still stand, and Tuz Khurmatu remains a flash point with an unstable melange of sects and ethnicities. Once united to fight Islamic State, Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs resumed viewing each other with hostility and suspicion.
Supporters of a Shiite cleric are seeing red in the run-up to Iraq's May elections thanks to an unprecedented alliance with the once-powerful communist party.
Populist preacher Moqtada Sadr has defied his clerical rivals and opted to campaign for the May 12 poll alongside former enemies, Marxists who demand a secular state.
"This alliance is a first in Iraq," said Ibrahim Al Jaberi, a Sadrist official.
An impending threat to national security could emerge sooner rather than later if serious measures are not taken to address Iraq’s water shortages. Mesopotamia, the land of the Euphrates and Tigris, is where some of the oldest and most notable empires built the Cradle of Civilisation. Thousands of years later, like many across the Middle East and North Africa, these rivers are drying up at an alarming rate alongside hopes for some peace in this beleaguered region of the world.
The Euphrates and Tigris account for much of Iraq’s surface water supply and a perfect storm of decades of mismanagement due to endless wars and corruption, population growth, the rapacity of neighbouring countries and worsening impact of climate change has left Iraq in a very vulnerable position when it comes to the most essential element of life.
The threats posed to Iraq’s national security by the inevitable droughts are innumerable, with the most obvious being famine, epidemics of water-borne diseases due to contamination and socio-economic instability leading to violence and extremism. On the economic front, agriculture has been billed as one of Iraq’s most promising sectors in the struggle for economic diversification. Facing a compounding water shortage, that idea could sadly be stillborn.
It almost feels like old times. Before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, Gulf Arabs partied on the banks of the Shatt al-Arab river in southern Iraq. Many owned villas in the fields around Basra and took Iraqi wives. Now, after a break of three decades, they are back. Saudi Arabia is putting the finishing touches on a consulate in Basra's Sheraton hotel, where Iraqi crooners sing love songs and waiters dance. Last month a dozen Saudi poets travelled to Basra for a literary festival.
Saudi interest was initially pricked by America, which has been marshalling Gulf support to help stem Iran's push west. It was a hard sell. Iraq, under Saddam, threatened to invade Saudi Arabia. More recently, it has allowed Shia militias backed by Iran to set up camp on the Saudi border. In response the kingdom, which considers itself the region's Sunni champion, is accused on bankrolling Sunni jihadists in Iraq.
Mohammad Hassan worries about the steady decline in the number of customers who come to his shop in Baghdad’s Souk al-Safafeer, the legendary copper market in the neighborhood of Bab al-Agha. The shop sports Hassan’s handmade copper products, mostly miniatures of Iraq’s symbols and monuments, such as the palm tree, the Lion of Babylon, the Malwiya Minaret in Samarra and Mosul’s Great Mosque of al-Nuri, which the Islamic State destroyed in 2017.
Hassan, who has been a coppersmith for 30 years, exercises a profession that dates to the Abbasid period of the 10th century, when many everyday goods, from lanterns to water bottles and from cups to knives and daggers, were made of copper. But those days are long gone.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a decree on Thursday formalizing the inclusion of Shi’ite paramilitary groups in the country’s security forces.
According to the decree, members of the Shi’ite militias, an assortment of militia groups known collectively as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), which are mostly backed and trained by Iran, will be granted many of the same rights as members the military.
Paramilitary members will be given equivalent salaries to those members of the military under the Ministry of Defense’s control, the decree said. They will also be subject to the laws of military service and will gain access to military institutes and colleges.