Iraqi Political Landscape

Iraq-Iran Railway Link Project: Dimensions and Geopolitical and Economic Implications

EPC | 15 Aug 2021

It goes without saying that securing a foothold on the Mediterranean remains one of Iran's top strategic goals. To this end, Iran is pressing Iraq today to complete a joint railway project designed to link the Imam Khomeini port on the Arabian Gulf with the Syrian port of Latakia on the Mediterranean. The project includes linking the Iranian city of Khorramshahr to the city of Basra in Iraq with a 32-kilometer rail network, which ultimately leads to linking the Iranian borders with the Iraqi and Syrian borders, through trade, economic and security relations. This paper discusses the strategic dimensions of this project, its geopolitical and economic implications, and its implementation scenarios.

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Iraq Political Developments: Implications for Early Elections

EPC | 14 Jul 2021

As the October 10th, 2021 date for Iraq's early parliamentary election winds down, several issues and developments continue to cast a shadow over the country's political trajectory and raise questions about the vote, its integrity, and possible outcomes. Among the most important of these issues is a chronic electricity crisis that worsens even more during the summer months, the fact that most civil and protest movement activists decided not to participate in the elections, and recent moves by the country's main political actors.

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Disputed territories in Iraq: Security Dilemma and geopolitics

Diyari Salih | 13 Jul 2021

This paper seeks to show the geographic importance of the so-called “disputed territories” between Baghdad and Erbil and their role in shaping Iraq’s security landscape. The importance of these territories has recently increased, not only in the context of talking about ISIS ability to exploit circumstances and escalate attacks there, but also in the context of understanding the impact of the geopolitical shifts in these territories on the internal balance of power.

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Daesh in Iraq: A New Rise in “Soft” Areas

EPC | 28 Jun 2021

The terrorist organisation Daesh (Islamic State, ISIS) has resumed its field presence through activities in the regions of western and northern Iraq since the beginning of 2021, exploiting cases of socio-political conflict in villages and cities disputed on sectarian and national grounds, which prolongs the security tension in those areas despite the passage of four years since being freed from the organisation. This paper sheds light on the activity of the extremist organisation and the reasons for its recent recovery.

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Escalation in Sinjar, Iraq: Internal Competition and Geopolitical Consequences

EPC | 23 Feb 2021

​February 2021 witnessed further military and verbal escalation regarding the situation in Sinjar near the Iraqi-Syrian border. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted at the possibility that Turkish forces might launch a large-scale attack on the district that is administratively associated with Nineveh Governorate in order to eradicate the operatives of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) who Ankara claims are heavily present in that region and move continuously across the Iraqi-Syrian border, in cooperation with their allies from the Kurdish and Yazidi factions in Syria and Iraq. The Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar had visited Baghdad on 18 January 2021, accompanied by the Turkish Army Chief of Staff General Yasar Guler, to pressure the Iraqi government to activate its efforts to expel the PKK fighters from Sinjar, expressing Ankara's readiness to support the governments of Baghdad and Erbil to implement the agreement they had reached on 9 October 2020 to normalise the situation in Sinjar and drive the PKK out of the region.

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Iraq Postpones Date for Early Elections: Background and Scenarios

EPC | 11 Feb 2021

​On the recommendation of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), the Iraqi government decided to postpone the early parliamentary elections that were scheduled to be held from June to October 2021, which deepened doubts about the seriousness of the new date, especially in the light of the procrastination by the ruling parties in meeting the legal requirements to conduct this extraordinary election. This paper sheds light on the background of the postponement decision, the calculations of the political forces, and the scenarios for the future of the elections.

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Poverty, Conflict and Political–Economic Crisis in a Fragile Iraq

Zeinab F. Shuker | 21 Jan 2021

Iraq’s economic outlook has rapidly deteriorated since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many years, economic progress and state legitimacy in the country have been undermined by an undiversified economy, as well as Iraq’s dependence on oil revenues, bloated public sector, rigid budget, rampant corruption and weak state capacity. This economic and political deterioration has inspired conflict and instability, contributing in 2019 to the rise of one of the country’s biggest social and political uprisings. It has also left the country with limited capacity to mitigate and manage the COVID-19 crisis and its socio-economic impacts. However, unlike previous crises, the current economic breakdown and its resultant political consequences are far from temporary. The 2021 year does not promise any significant improvement in this regard, with a budget deficit estimated at 63 trillion dinars (US $43 billion) – the biggest in Iraq’s history and the highest among the OPEC countries. The measures implemented now by Iraq’s ruling elites will be instrumental in determining the future of the country and the overall stability of the region. Therefore, how will the country's worsening economic situation and rising poverty affect its already unstable political structure?

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Muqtada al-Sadr’s Bid to Nominate Iraq’s Next Prime Minister

EPC | 11 Jan 2021

Seven months before the date set for the early parliamentary elections, in June 2021, the Sadrist Movement launched its electoral campaign by revealing that it seeks to win the majority of seats in the next parliament and thus have the right to name the Prime Minister. This came through a series of coordinated positions by the Movement’s leader Muqtada al-Sadr and his senior aides, and was met with a mixture of caution and skepticism on the part of the political and popular circles, given the radical changes that this would cause in the map of the distribution of influence between the main Shiite actors and, subsequently, in the Iraqi political balances.

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The Kurdistan Protests and Prospects of Negotiations with Baghdad

EPC | 10 Jan 2021

As a result of the financial and political crisis, the delay in paying employees' salaries, and the Kurdish blocs' refusal to vote on the borrowing law that was approved by the Iraqi Council of Representatives (COR) in November 2020, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of the Kurdistan region in the first week of December 2020. The protesters burned party headquarters in Sulaymaniyah and blocked roads with burning tyres, while the security services carried out crackdowns and arrests and used live ammunition to disperse the protesters, which led to deaths and injuries among the protesters. While most of the demonstrations were confined to the provinces of Sulaymaniyah and Halabja, which are under the control of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), they indicate the exacerbating danger that may be caused by the economic crisis throughout the region, especially as it comes at a time when the Kurdish Region is about to split, given that the differences between Baghdad and Erbil have reached their climax. Therefore, the Region quickly sent a delegation headed by Qubad Talabani, Deputy Prime Minister of the Region and a leader of the PUK, to Baghdad to reach a solution to the budget and salary issues.

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ISIS Strategy in Iraq

EPC | 05 Jan 2021

Iraq continues to face the challenges of Daesh (Islamic State, ISIS) inside the liberated area in the west and north of the country, even as the organisation seeks to intensify its terrorist operations in those areas in an effort to regain the lands recovered from it. Under its new leadership, Daesh seeks to prove its presence on the Iraqi front in the light of a fierce confrontation by the Iraqi authorities, with all sorts of their combat forces. This paper sheds light on the new strategy of the Daesh organisation in Iraq. It also discusses the ways the Iraqi government would confront the extremist organisation.

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COVID-19, the oil price collapse and the Iraqi economy

Zeinab Shuker | 21 Oct 2020

The OPEC+ member states, led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, agreed in April 2020 to slash oil production by 9.7 million barrels per day (mbpd) in May and June – the deepest cuts ever agreed by the world’s oil producers. They aim to stabilize both oil markets and prices, which reached their lowest level in almost two decades due to the coronavirus. Iraq – the second largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia – agreed to a cut of 850,000 barrels per day (bpd). However, as with some other producers in the region, Iraq faces both the short-term challenges to its crisis-ridden economy posed by COVID-19 and those that necessitate fundamental long-term changes to its oil-dependent economic structure.

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Has Iraq Become a Field for Iranian-Turkish Agreement?

EPC | 01 Oct 2020

​On 8 September 2020, the sixth meeting of the Iran-Turkey Cooperation Council was held under the chairmanship of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The meeting approved many common issues between the two sides as a gateway to enhancing their strategic relations at this stage. However, what is striking is that the meeting, which took place by means of videoconferencing, confirmed that the two countries would take joint steps in the region in a way that serves their interests, “including joint military and security operations, in countering terrorism and organised crime” groups. These are directly linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Iranian Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK). It did not take long hours before reports emerged of an escalation of Turkish and Iranian bombardment of the areas where these two organisations are deployed in the cities of Erbil and Dohuk in Iraqi Kurdistan.

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“Katyusha Cells”: The Long Arm of Iran-Backed Factions in Iraq

​Firas Elias | 30 Sep 2020

The beginning of 2020 marked the actual emergence of the so-called "Katyusha cells" in Iraq. The killing of the commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards General Qasem Soleimani, accompanied by the Deputy Chairman of the Popular Mobilisation Committee (PMC) Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in the vicinity of Baghdad International Airport at the beginning of 2020, was the practical beginning of the formation of those cells, which took it upon themselves to attack the headquarters and bases in which the US forces are located, as well as the US Embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone. Despite the lack of clarity of the structure of those cells and of their organisational and administrative links, what is certain is that they came about as a result of an agreed internal fission between the [pro-Iran] loyalist factions in order to carry out irresponsible missile attacks against the US forces and exert more pressure on the Iraqi government regarding the issue of removing the US forces from Iraq.

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Iraq is Listed on Europe’s List of High-Risk Countries in Money Laundering Crimes: Reasons and Consequences

EPC | 29 Sep 2020

​While the government of Mustafa al-Kadhimi is struggling to ensure that the salaries of employees, retirees, and beneficiaries of the social protection network continue to be paid after the sharp decline in public treasury revenues due to the decline in oil prices under the pressure of the coronavirus outbreak, its efforts received a severe blow following the reinclusion by the European Union (EU) in May 2020 of Iraq in the list of high-risk countries for money laundering and terrorist financing, along with North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen. This step would have negative economic and financial repercussions for Iraq.

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Ongoing Displacement Crisis in Iraq: Causes and Government Efforts

EPC | 25 Aug 2020

Although three years have passed since the end of the war against Da’esh and the liberation of areas of Iraq formerly under the group’s control, political interference has prevented the return of more than one million displaced citizens – primarily Sunni, Yazidi, and Christian Arabs – who fled their homes in response to the destruction caused by military operations. In this article, we will discuss the real causes preventing the return of these populations, identify who benefits from the existence of refugee camps and from opportunities to exploit the crisis in affected cities, and examine the efforts made thus far by Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s government to resolve the situation.

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Differences between Baghdad and Erbil: Economic and Political Consequences and Early Elections

EPC | 18 Aug 2020

​Intensive negotiations are reported to be underway between Baghdad and Erbil to develop a comprehensive agreement on the pending differences over the past decade, including oil, the budget, and the deployment of Peshmerga forces in the disputed areas. The negotiations are held with the support of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) headed by Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, but are facing several difficulties in terms of the current Iraqi complications, which were exacerbated by the announcement by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi that early elections would be held in June 2021.

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Regulation of Border Crossings in Iraq: The Economic Necessity and Political Motivations

EPC | 13 Aug 2020

Under the title of combating corruption and maximizing the state's non-oil revenues to counter the repercussions of the coronavirus crisis, in July 2020, Mustafa al-Kadhimi's government began a campaign to restore control of the country's border crossings after having been left for many years to be looted by the networks of political and administrative corruption that cost Iraq huge financial losses. This step puts Kadhimi on a collision course with the dominant political and religious powers, particularly the pro-Iranian Shiite militias which have strongly got involved in exploiting the border crossings at both the economic and security levels.

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Al-Kadhimi’s Visit to Iran: Iraqi Sovereignty in Exchange for Economic Aid

EPC | 03 Aug 2020

​On 21 July 2020, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi paid a visit to Iran. This was his first external visit after he took office. It also came after he delayed a scheduled visit to Saudi Arabia due to the hospitalization of the Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz. Kadhimi’s visit to Tehran comes in the context of an Iraqi political dynamism that is different from before. This dynamism focuses on establishing Iraqi sovereignty and demanding that Iran control its loyal factions in Iraq. In return, Iraq would continue to play the role of Iran’s economic lungs.

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Sunni Endowment Diwan Triggers Struggle over Sunni Marji’yya in Iraq

EPC | 27 Jul 2020

Once again, the controversy returns in the Iraqi Sunni community regarding the religious authorities. This time the cause is the replacement of the President of the Sunni Endowment Office (or Diwan, SEO) and the attempt to designate a new name to run the Sect’s endowments and associated investment projects. The disagreement between the relevant parties reflects the ongoing conflict between the secular and Brotherhood Sunni powers in Iraq.

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Al-Kadhimi Government and its Strategy to Contain the Popular Mobilization Forces

EPC | 26 Jul 2020

​The factions of the Popular Mobilization Committee (PMC, al-Hashed al-Shaabi) constitute a real challenge to the new Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi who had pledged in his government programme to establish the state sovereignty, limit the possession of weapons to the state, and organize the Iraqi military establishment in an effective and serious manner. Kadhimi’s promises came amidst a general feeling of depression and mistrust among the Iraqi people as a result of the repeated promises that were offered without being met by the former governments. This paper sheds light on the conflict of wills between the Kadhimi government and the PMC factions.

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The Electoral Law, the High Commission and the Federal Court: A Trilateral Threat to the Next Iraqi Elections

EPC | 01 Jul 2020

Immediately after the government of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi won the confidence of the Iraqi Council of Representatives (CoP) on 7 May 2020, the political blocs initiated consultations to amend the law of general elections approved in late 2019 amidst broad opposition by Kurdish and Sunni blocs. At the same time, some political powers opposed the method used by the Independent High Electoral Commission to form its offices, demanding that the Commission change that method and that the Commission Board be re-structured. This also coincided with the emergence of a crisis between the Supreme Judicial Council and the Federal Supreme Court. This paper discusses the differences regarding the amendment of the electoral law and the composition of the High Commission in addition to the crisis of the Federal Supreme Court and the impact of all this on the next parliamentary elections.

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The Forthcoming Iraqi-American Strategic Dialogue: Complicated Priorities and Thorny Issues

Firas Elias | 03 Jun 2020

On 7 April 2020, US Secretary of State Mark Pompeo said in a statement that his country “has proposed holding a strategic dialogue with the government of Iraq to be held in middle of June” and that “it will be the first review of all issues pertaining to the US-Iraq relations, including the future presence of US forces in the country”. This call for dialogue between Baghdad and Washington comes in the context of the growing tension on Iraqi territory between the US on the one hand, and Iran and its proxy Iraqi loyalist factions on the other, and after the Iraqi House of Representatives issued, early January 2020, a decision committing the government to evacuating foreign troops from Iraq in response to the assassination by the US of the Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and the deputy chairman of the Popular Mobilization Committee (al-Hashed al-Shaabi) Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. The call also comes amidst the suffering by Iraq from an overall health, social and economic crisis as a result of the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic and the likelihood of the collapse of the Iraqi economy as a result of the decline in oil revenues. This drives the governments of the two countries to “work together to stop any reversal of the gains . . . made in . . . efforts to defeat ISIS and stabilize the country”.

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Economic Crisis in Iraq: Consequences and Available Choices for Al-Kadhimi’s Government

EPC | 28 May 2020

With the major lockdown of living and economic fields due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, experts expect a major economic recession in the world that would be the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Iraq is one of the countries of the world that suffer from the implications of both the health and economic crises because of the corona epidemic, in addition to the financial crisis as a result of the fall in oil prices. All this coincides with exceptional conditions experienced by Iraq since the outbreak of protests at the beginning of October 2019 and the escalation of the US-Iranian conflict on its soil last year. This paper sheds light on the dimensions of the economic crisis experienced by Iraq, and discusses the options before the new Kadhimi government to counter this challenge.

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Iraqi-Chinese Economic Agreement: a Debate on Objectives and Benefits

EPC | 20 Feb 2020

Shortly before its resignation at the end of November 2019 amid wide protest movement, the government of former Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi signed a framework agreement for economic cooperation with China that envisages the financing of major infrastructure projects from Iraqi oil exported to China. The agreement stirred a political, economic and even popular debate triggered by the government's failure to present the deal to the parliament and keeping some of its clauses untold. This paper sheds light on the context of the agreement, reviews some of its known clauses, addresses political positions thereon, and discusses claims that the deal actually serves Iran.

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Can Mohammed Allawi Succeed in Forming Iraq's Next Government?

EPC | 17 Feb 2020

In a repeat of Adel Abdul-Mahdi's elevation to Iraq's premiership, the leader of the Sadrist Movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, and the leader of the pro-Iran Al-Fatah Alliance, Hadi al-Amiri, agreed to nominate former Minister of Communications Muhammad Tawfiq Allawi as a new prime minister. Once Allawi was officially designated by the President of the Republic, Barham Salih, on February 1, 2020, the demonstrations intensified in Baghdad and a number of southern provinces denouncing their ally's, Al-Sadr, departure from the protesters' conditions that the next prime minister must be independent, does not hold two nationalities and has not been a member of any previous government.

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Will the death of Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis lead to the decline of "PMF" in Iraq?

EPC | 10 Feb 2020

Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) has now to grapple with enormous challenges following the killing of its commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis in a US drone strike in early January this year. Al-Muhandis was the mastermind and chief architect of all of Iran's loyal factions, which have been buckling under mounting U.S. pressure. The US designated the PMF a terrorist organization and slapped major financial sanctions targeting a significant number of its leaders. This is in addition to U.S. and Israeli drone strikes against the group's camps and missile depots.

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Will the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan manage to overcome its current crisis?

EPC | 27 Jan 2020

The fourth general conference held by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) was an important event for both Kurdistan and wider Iraq, as it was the first such conference held since the death of party leader Jalal Talabani. This paper examines the outcomes of the conference and their impact on the future of the party and its role in politics.

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Impact of Soleimani killing on US–Iran conflict in Iraq

EPC | 26 Jan 2020

On January 3, 2020, the United States assassinated the head of the Iranian Quds Force, General Qasem Soleimani, and the deputy chief of the Popular Mobilization Forces, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. This operation followed a series of escalating incidents between the two sides. This paper will examine the repercussions of the recent escalations between Iran and the United States in Iraq and the possible conflict scenarios between the two sides that may emerge in the coming months.

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The Kurdish Parties and the Iraqi Protest Movement

EPC | 07 Jan 2020

Political leaders in the Kurdistan Region are highly concerned by the direction that the Iraqi protest movement has taken, not only because of the possibility that the protests may spread to the region, where living conditions are no different from those in the central and southern governorates, but also because of the possible changes to the Iraqi political system that could have an impact on the status of the region and threaten the foundations of its undeclared independence from the federal government.

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Amending the Iraqi constitution: Contents, political attitudes and scenarios

EPC | 08 Dec 2019

On October 28, 2019, the Iraqi parliament decided to form a committee to amend the constitution, as part of a set of other decisions agreed between the main political blocs in order to absorb the massive public anger expressed by the continuing popular protests in the central and southern governorates, but there are strong doubts that the committee can accomplish The draft amendment in four months, as well as doubts about the seriousness of the ruling political class in amending the constitution to achieve the protesters' demands for political reform.

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The Future of the Protest Movement in Iraq

EPC | 05 Dec 2019

The popular movement in Iraq continues to maintain momentum and engage various segments of society, despite a campaign of violent repression and widespread intimidation involving the assassination, kidnapping and arrest of activists, a media crackdown and internet blackouts, culminating in the Nasiriyah massacre and the outbreak of conflict in Najaf which tipped the country onto the brink. This paper will shed a light on the developments on the ground in Iraq and their political repercussions, as well as the Government’s remaining options for tackling the stubborn anger on the country’s streets.

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