Iraq After ISIS

Why More Fighting May Be In Store

Tribal fighters near Qayyara, Iraq, November 2016. Alaa Al-Marjani / REUTERS

The campaign to liberate Mosul from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) has raised questions about what Iraq will look like once ISIS is defeated. The expulsion of the militants from Iraq will probably neither decrease the number of armed groups in the country nor limit the potential for violence there. Far from portending the end of Iraq’s current turbulence, ISIS’ demise could have the opposite effect, creating opportunities for violent competition in the areas that the militant group abandons.

There are a number of reasons why this is the case. First among these is the fact that ISIS has exacerbated the old grievances among the various groups living under its control in an attempt to play them off of one another. Next is the sharp increase in weapons and outside support that Iraq’s armed groups have received in recent years, in large part to equip them for the fight against ISIS. Even as Iran, Turkey, and other regional players compete for influence in post-ISIS Iraq, Baghdad will have to manage increased tensions at the local level, both between different ethnic and religious communities and within the particular groups that constitute them.

Shiite fighters during clashes with ISIS militants near Kirkuk, March 2015.
Shiite fighters during clashes with ISIS militants near Kirkuk, March 2015.  Ako Rasheed / REUTERS


Tensions between Iraq’s ethnic and religious communities are on the rise. In the disputed territories in the northern parts of Diyala Governorate, the eastern portions of Nineveh Governorate, and in the city of Kirkuk, which was captured by Kurdish fighters after the retreat of the Iraqi army in the face of an ISIS offensive in the summer of 2014, the friction between Arabs and Kurds, in particular, is increasing.

In recent weeks, Kirkuk has again come under attack by ISIS fighters seeking to divert Iraqi forces from their assault on Mosul. According to Sheikh Burhan Assi, an Arab member of Kirkuk’s provincial council, after one such attack in October, Kurdish militants used the amplifiers in mosques in several Kurdish neighborhoods to demand that internally

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