Current Situation in Iraq

Iraq is managing to stay in one piece in spite of devastating odds

Political divisions in combination with high unemployment and devastating wars have made Iraq one of the most unstable countries in the Middle East. The federal government in the capital city, Baghdad, is now dominated by the Shiite Arab majority, and Sunni Arabs, who formed the backbone of Saddam Hussein’s regime, feel marginalized.

Iraq’s Kurdish minority has its own government and security forces. The Kurds are at odds with the central government over the division of oil profits and the final status of mixed Arab-Kurdish territories.

There is still no consensus on what a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq should look like. Most Kurds support independence, joined by some Sunnis who want autonomy from the Shiite-led central government. Many Shiite politicians living in oil-rich provinces could also live without the interference from Baghdad. On the other side of the debate are the nationalists, both Sunni and Shiite, who advocate a unified Iraq with a strong central government.

The potential for economic development is huge, but violence remains endemic and many Iraqis fear continued acts of terrorism by jihadist groups.

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Iraq and the Islamic State

The Ishtar (locally known as Sheraton) and Palestine Hotels stand next to Firdos Square where the statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down by US forces, March 18, 2013 in Baghdad, Iraq.
Getty Images/Stringer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Most of the territory in Iraq once controlled by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been recaptured. ISIL, which grew out of al-Qaeda after the 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S. forces, was formed by Sunni militants. The group proclaimed the desire to form a caliphate in Iraq, and then resorted to unspeakable violence and horror to achieve its goal.

Multinational military operations against the terrorist group intensified in 2017-2018, displacing at least 3.2 million Iraqis, over 1 million from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi claims that Iraqi and allied forces have driven ISIL out of the country once and for all.

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Federal and Regional Governments

Nuri al-Maliki
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speaks during a press conference on May 11, 2011 at the green zone area in Baghdad, Iraq. Muhannad Fala'ah /Getty Images

The federal government of Iraq is headed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has kept the country together through wars and financial crises. The federal government, under Abadi's guidance since 2014, is a coalition of Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish, and other leaders. Abadi, a Shiite, has emerged as a strong leader for Iraq with historically high levels of Sunni support for his nationalist, anti-sectarian stance.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), based in Erbil in northern Iraq and ruled by Massoud Barzani without a mandate since 2015, participates in the federal state institutions in Baghdad, but the Kurdish area is considered a semi-autonomous region. There are major differences within the KRG between the two major parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Kurds voted for an independent Kurdistan in 2017, but Baghdad considered the referendum illegal, and Iraq's federal Supreme Court ruled that no Iraqi province was allowed to secede.

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Iraqi Opposition

Iraqi Shiites chant slogans as a picture of firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is seen during a protest over the bombing of a Shiite holy shrine on February 22, 2006 in the Sadr city neighborhood of Baghdad. Wathiq Khuzaie /Getty Images

In and out of government for over a decade, the group led by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is called al-Sadr Movement. This Islamist group appeals to low-income Shiites with a network of charities. Its armed wing has fought against the government forces, rival Shiite groups, and Sunni militias.

Traditional community leaders in Sunni areas have been at the center of opposition to the Shiite-led government and have backed the efforts to counter the influence of extremists such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

The London-based Foreign Relations Bureau of Iraq is an opposition group comprised of Iraqi diaspora as well as in-country Iraqis. The group, which came into existence in 2014, consists of a large number of intellectuals, analysts, and former Iraqi politicians who advocate for women’s rights, equality, Iraqi independence from foreign control, and a nonsectarian approach to governance.