Can Iraqi Campuses Remain Politics Free During Election Season?

Over the past six weeks, two incidents involving politicians visiting Iraqi university campuses have been met with unhappy students protesting their visits. They were dealt with very differently and have raised serious questions and concerns about how the Iraqi state can protect freedom of speech and hold those intolerant to opposing opinions accountable. The first incident occurred on February 28, when Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi held his weekly cabinet meeting in Wasit province, south-east of Baghdad. The Prime Minister occasionally holds his cabinet meetings outside the capital to connect with the rest of the country. That day Abadi decided...

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Do Iraqis Need to Reconcile with the Sunni Sheikhs of Amman?

Ever since ISIS stormed Mosul in the summer 2014 and swept across swathes of Iraqi towns and villages, Western and Arab pundits have insisted that only local Sunni forces would be capable of defeating the transnational terror group. Last week, Iraq’s military leadership announced that ISIS now controls less than 7% of Iraqi territory, and yet with the exception of a handful of prominent Sunni tribes including the Jughayfa of Haditha and the Shammar of Ninewa, local Sunni armed groups have played a minimal role in defeating the ISIS occupation. The vast majority of these battles have been led...

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Democracy and the Iraqi Collective

It has been a long journey, full of pain and sacrifice, but Iraqi forces are on the precipice of achieving what many said they could not. With the near liberation of Mosul and thereafter the whole of Iraq from the savagery of Daesh, it is useful to reflect on some key lessons: During my tenure as Iraq’s Ambassador to Japan, I learned through coexistence with the Japanese how a strong social foundation can be a guarantee against the mightiest earthquake or tsunami. The development of resilience and perseverance in the Japanese character is the most important capital for its...

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The Geneva Conference: Last Stand for Exiled Sunnis

By Ihsan Noori & Ali Hadi Al-Musawi Iraqi Sunni politicians gathered in Switzerland last week for yet another conference that was marred by mystery and intrigue. After conferences in Doha and Amman in 2015, and Paris last year, the “Geneva Conference” was held on February 15 and 16 in Montreux, 93 km east of Geneva. Like its predecessors, the event raised important questions about the intent of the organizers and whether it would produce any meaningful outcomes. The European Institute of Peace (EIP) hosted the event, which brought together several controversial Sunni figures, government officials and a handful of foreign...

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The Dangers of Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Violent Demonstrations

The Sadrist demonstrations have become a staple of Friday afternoons in Baghdad’s Tahrir (freedom) Square. Last week’s demonstrations drew more people than usual based on Muqtada al-Sadr’s demand that his loyal supporters come out for a “million man march”. Last year’s demonstration culminated in the storming of the International Zone (IZ), the fortified district that houses the majority of Iraq’s government institutions. Once again on February 11, 2017 Muqtada Al-Sadr directed his followers to protest outside the gates of the IZ, this time for reforms on the electoral commission. Like all of Sadr’s calls, his faithful supporters answered despite the...

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PUK Lobbying in D.C. Threatens Party Gains in Baghdad

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is a divided party. There are two spheres of influence within the PUK, each pursuing a contradicting policy to the other. On one hand, there is the wing led by Hero Ahmed, Jalal Talabani’s wife. This wing has taken to building an alliance with parties in Baghdad, thus strengthening ties with the federal government. On the other hand, there is the wing led by Kurdistan Region’s Vice President, Kosrat Rasul Ali, and former KRG Prime Minister, Barham Salih. This side wants to maintain the current alliance with the region’s incumbent President Masoud Barzani...

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What do Iraqis expect from President Trump?

Ali Al-Mawlawi The unexpected election of Donald Trump invoked a largely subdued response from Iraqis. Over the past six weeks, the nation has been preoccupied with developments in Mosul as Iraqi forces battle it out to recapture the last major ISIS stronghold in the country. Through conversations with Iraqis in Baghdad about what Trump’s election might mean for Iraq and its relationship with the United States going forward, it is clear that unlike Hillary Clinton, Trump is a largely unknown quantity. There are however some common themes that arise in any conversation about what to expect from a Trump...

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Abadi Must Check Barzani’s Ambition

I wrote last month on the Kurdistan Region’s incumbent president Masoud Barzani’s need to deliver on returning the goodwill and alliance prime minister Haider al-Abadi extended to him on his trip to Baghdad in late September. Abadi spoke largely on a united federal Iraq and avoided any criticism of Barzani’s devisive politics in Erbil or his overdue presidential mandate of the Kurdistan Region. The visit was a good trip for photo ops from a federal Iraq PR perspective, but it didn’t stop Barzani from putting his relationship with Ankara ahead of Baghdad. Military plans on the Mosul Offensive were...

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Maslawis Want to Have Their Voices Heard

As Iraqi Security Forces continue their advances in the operation to retake Mosul, edging closer to the city itself, the next stage in the operation will be heavily influenced by local civilian behaviour. The steady stream of news stories and analysis articles fills the media scene, but not many of these pieces incorporate opinions of actual Maslawis (people from Mosul). Restrictions imposed by ISIS on communications, and harsh punishments (including execution) for those suspected of talking to journalists, mean that information flow from Mosul through traditional journalistic channels is almost impossible. Aiming to address the near absence of their...

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Unravelling the coordinated campaign to break up Iraq

Taken at face value, the growing calls for the partition of Iraq and the establishment of an independent Sunni Arab state appear to be uncoordinated. But the recent release of a think tank paper that advocates for Iraq’s break up inadvertently reveals how discredited Iraqi politicians and millionaire businessmen are teaming up with DC lobbyists to execute a highly coordinated campaign to make the case for a three-state solution in Iraq. On the eve of the start of the Mosul offensive, the Hudson Institute released a white paper making the case for why the United States should support the establishment of an autonomous Sunni region...

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