Iraq Instability Grows Amidst Regional and Local Tension

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News of increased violence in Iraq has once again raised fears that the country might slide back into civil war — June and July have seen a disproportionate amount of deaths and sectarian violence. For some, the news just confirms what they have feared all along: that the withdrawal of U.S. troops has inevitably ushered in greater instability. There are others, however, who argue that the rise in violence is an aberration and that the nature of the strife has taken less sectarian turn.

In a piece emblematic of the more pessimist outlook on what is going on in Iraq, the Gulf Today editorial argues there are “Worsening days ahead for Iraqis…. Despite the U.S.’s announcement of the ‘end of war’ in Iraq, the people of Iraq continue to suffer under unrelenting violence while the toll from civilian deaths continues to climb….After two decades of sanctions, bombings, followed by nine years of continuous warfare, the recovery and rebuilding of Iraqi civil society will take more than a simple celebratory announcement by Washington….And the politicking is continuing, with Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki seeking to monopolize power. Maliki is waging an open war against the country’s Sunni minority. He has ordered the suppression of news media, detained hundreds of political opponents and even tortured them, and consolidated power by purging Sunnis and Kurds from government.”

However, the Daily Star’s Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi cautions against drawing any premature conclusions: “What are we to make of the increase in violent deaths in Iraq during June and July? Is it a sign of a long-term upsurge in violence since the U.S. troop withdrawal? Who are the culprits?…one should be careful in extrapolating from short-term trends to warn of growing sectarian tensions and a return to civil war in the near future….In short, the political impasse, heavy-handedness of the security forces and AQI strength in Mosul mean that, overall, violence is unlikely to decrease substantially over the coming years. That is why we can put aside media sensationalism that tends to look only at short-term trends in Iraq, leading to uninformed talk of a return to a full-blown sectarian civil war as in 2006.”

Complicating matters more, the increase in violence is taking place against the backdrop of local political impasse and civil strife in neighboring Syria. Al Sumaria TV reported news that “a Syrian jet fighter…penetrated Iraqi [airspace] and flew over a low altitude above Al Qaem city for 3 minutes assuring that Al Bukmal Syrian village on Iraqi borders has been under fierce bombardment since morning…. ‘A number of Syrian jet fighters fiercely bombarded Al Bukmal Syrian village near Iraqi borders following clashes between the official Syrian army and the Free Syrian Army,’ the source told Alsumaria news, noting that a jet fighter penetrated Iraqi atmosphere and flew over a low altitude above Al Qaem city, western Al Anbar, for 3 minutes.”

Reflecting on the events in Syria and the Iraqi government’s response to the crisis there, Mohammad Akef Jamal argues in an op-ed for Gulf News for the need to “to revise Iraq’s foreign policy…. A stand supporting the Syrian people is an important issue for Iraq and it provides an excellent occasion for Iraq to announce its return as a pivotal Arab state in the Middle East with an independent free stand, free from external political influence….The fighting in Syria will not just affect the country’s future, but the repercussions are bound to impact future Iraqi-Syrian relations….National security can be achieved by objectively foreseeing the future of the region and accordingly devising appropriate policies to generate good neighborly relations instead of creating enemies of governments next door.”

Unfortunately, the developments in Syria are not the only ones that might affect political cohesion in Iraq. In an article for the Kurdish AK News, Joel Wing comments on the effect that the no-confidence move against the Iraq PM Nouri Al Maliki had on the Kurdish parties: “The (Kurdish) President … helped spearhead a no-confidence drive against the premier, which failed. Barzani always talked as if he was representing all of the Kurdish parties and the regional government. In fact, differences between the various Kurdish factions had been building up beforehand. Barzani’s actions ended up making this split public, and was one reason why the no-confidence move failed….Today these divisions still exist, despite some public statements that all the Kurdish parties are working together….These larger issues are as of yet unresolved, so the next time there is a political crisis in Iraq, they will come to the fore publicly again.”

Unfortunately, there are no signs that the factious political arena inside Iraq will become any less polarizing in the future. As a recent resignation from one of the government ministers indicates, if anything those divisions might become even more entrenched: “Iraqi Communications Minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi told AFP on Monday he quit his post, accusing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of doing nothing to stop ‘political interference’ in his ministry. Allawi’s resignation is the first by a cabinet minister since Iraq’s national unity government was formed in December 2010, and comes just months after opponents of Maliki attempted to oust him via a no-confidence motion….His resignation is the first of Iraq’s national unity government….Allawi is a member of the mostly Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc that attempted earlier this year to withdraw confidence from Maliki’s government.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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