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Jan 16, 2014 | 21:36 GMT

3 mins read

Iraq's Deteriorating Security Poses a Test for Baghdad

Iraq is again in the midst of a wave of rising sectarian attacks across the country, even as Baghdad is struggling to eject jihadist insurgents from Sunni Arab strongholds in Fallujah and Ramadi. The past 48 hours have seen a marked attempt by suspected al Qaeda and elements of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant to distract the focus of the government in Baghdad away from ongoing offensives in al Anbar to other critical parts of the country.

There has been an uptick in attacks, shootings and car bombings in areas surrounding Baghdad and in northern cities such as Kirkuk and Mosul, in addition to the ongoing standoff between jihadists and government forces and Sunni Arab tribal leaders in the western province of al Anbar.

The area between the administrative reach of the central government in Baghdad and the KRG proper has led to the establishment of insurgent strongholds around areas like Mosul and Kirkuk. Mosul, in particular, is coming under insurgent attack, at a time when Arbil-Baghdad ties are reaching a low point. There is a concerted effort on the part of the insurgents to stretch Baghdad's attention thin across Anbar, Nineveh, Diyala and in Baghdad.

While the fighting in al Anbar province continues, Mosul and its environs will now become a second, perhaps more critical battleground for Baghdad. The mixed ethnic and sectarian make-up of the region will only serve to complicate the largely Shiite Iraqi army's efforts to secure these areas.

The security situation will continue to be tense, bloody, and with escalating attacks for the immediate short term as al-Maliki weighs the political versus security costs of launching large-scale military operations against the insurgent targets ahead of this year's elections.

The political squabbling between the KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] and federal government over Kurdish oil exports also makes coordination between federal and regional Kurdish police and security forces more difficult. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki still faces significant opposition to launching a full-scale military operation into the residential neighborhoods of Fallujah and Ramadi in al Anbar, even with Sahwa (Sunni tribal) assistance.

Though most tribal leaders oppose al Qaeda and ISIL, moves by the government that can be seen as violating the territorial sovereignty and rights of what tribal leaders consider to be the Arab state of Iraq makes it harder for such leadership to stop support of insurgent attacks that strike Kurdish and Shiite targets. 

Iraq's Kurdish population faces the same risks as the country's Shiite majority from the Sunni Arab insurgents and jihadists, but the government in Baghdad is still the primary target of jihadists, giving the Kurds some breathing room. While Shiite and Kurdish concerns largely overlap, Baghdad cannot expect Kurdish security cooperation in the northern parts of the country without some sort of concessions on the budget and the Kurds' plans for independent oil exports. Such a settlement would only inflame Sunni Arab groups working with and against the federal government, however, again complicating Baghdad's decision making.

The security situation will continue to be tense, bloody, and with escalating attacks for the immediate short term as al-Maliki weighs the political versus security costs of launching large-scale military operations against the insurgent targets ahead of this year's elections. In the meantime, Baghdad will continue to lobby the United States for delivery of advanced military equipment as al-Maliki seeks greater international recognition of his government's legitimacy and maintain domestic political support.

Editor's Note:

A previous version of this article featured a video, which has since been rendered inaccessible for technical reasons. 

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