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  • Author: Valerie Szybala
  • Publication Date: 05-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Following the January 2014 uprising by rebel groups in Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), ISIS contracted its footprint in Syria. The group was pushed out, tactically withdrew, or went below the radar in cities and towns across much of Idlib, Aleppo, and Deir ez-Zour. It continued to battle the Kurds in Hasaka, but constituted most of its strength in ar-Raqqa, where it is in firm control of the provincial capital and several other towns. In Syria's eastern province of Deir ez-Zour, ISIS is attempting a resurgence. At the end of March 2014, ISIS began to move forces from the north into place for an offensive back into the heart of rebel territory in Deir ez-Zour province. This resurgence has come in the form of an offensive largely against Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic Front, which are predominant in the province. Local tribal militias have come to play an increasing role as well.
  • Topic: Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Jessica Lewis
  • Publication Date: 06-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: There are indications that ISIS is about to launch into a new offensive in Iraq. ISIS published photos of a military parade through the streets of Mosul on June 24, 2014 showcasing U.S. military equipment, including armored vehicles and towed artillery systems. ISIS reportedly executed another parade in Hawijah on June 26, 2014. These parades may be a demonstration of force to reinforce their control of these urban centers. They may also be a prelude to ISIS troop movements, and it is important to anticipate where ISIS may deploy these forces forward. Meanwhile, ISIS also renewed the use of suicide bombers in the vicinity of Baghdad. An ISIS bomber with a suicide vest (SVEST) attacked the Kadhimiya shrine in northern Baghdad on June 26, 2014, one of the four holy sites in Iraq that Iran and Shi'a militias are most concerned to protect. ISIS also incorporated an SVEST into a complex attack in Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad, on June 25, 2014 in a zone primarily controlled by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Shi'a militias on the road from Baghdad to Karbala. These attacks are demonstrations that ISIS has uncommitted forces in the Baghdad Belts that may be brought to bear in new offensives. ISIS's offensive has not culminated, and the ISIS campaign for Iraq is not over. Rather, as Ramadan approaches, their main offensive is likely imminent.
  • Topic: Military Strategy, Armed Struggle, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Nichole Dicharry
  • Publication Date: 06-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Forces from the Peshmerga were deployed to the Mosul Dam. The new force is reportedly larger and better equipped than the forces that had clashed with ISIS previously in the area. Also, unconfirmed reports suggest that the Peshmerga have retaken the area of Wana, located near the dam, that fell to ISIS yesterday.
  • Topic: Armed Struggle, Refugee Issues, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Ahmed Ali, Kimberly Kagan, Jessica Lewis
  • Publication Date: 05-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Escalating violence in Iraq crossed a new and very dangerous threshold this week. Al Qaeda in Iraq launched a concentrated wave of car-bomb and other attacks specifically against civilian Shi'a targets in and around Baghdad. Shi'a militias are mobilizing and have begun a round of sectarian killings facilitated by false checkpoints, a technique characteristic of the 2006-2007 period. Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki has taken a number of steps to demonstrate that he remains in control of the situation. The expansion of Shi'a militia activity, however, is likely to persuade many Iraqis that he is either not in control or is actively abetting the killings. The re-mobilization of Shi'a militias in Iraq coincides with the formal announcement by Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah of his organization's active military participation in the Syrian civil war. Al Qaeda in Iraq's sectarian mass-murder attacks coincide with the announcement by AQI's affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al Nusra, that attacking Hezbollah is that group's primary target henceforth. The stage appears to be set not merely for the collapse of the Iraqi state into the kind of vicious sectarian killing and sectarian cleansing that nearly destroyed it in 2006 and 2007, but also for the expansion of that sectarian warfare throughout both Mesopotamia and the Levant.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Jessica Lewis
  • Publication Date: 10-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) announced "The Soldiers' Harvest," a new campaign on July 29, 2013, immediately after the Abu Ghraib prison attack. AQI then declared that event the conclusion of the "Breaking the Walls" campaign, which apparently achieved its goals: to stoke sectarian violence by targeting Shi'a communities; and to reconstitute the veteran AQI fighting force by breaking former members out of Iraq's prisons. ISW has assessed that AQI has reconstituted as a professional military force. It is therefore crucial to examine the first 60 days of the new "Soldiers' Harvest" campaign for indications of what AQI means to accomplish this year. Initial indications suggest that AQI will seek to establish control of key terrain in Iraq while targeting any Sunnis who work for the government. The campaign name, "The Soldiers' Harvest," refers in particular to the intimidation and displacement of the Iraqi Security Forces, especially through the destruction of their homes.
  • Topic: Terrorism, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence, Prisons/Penal Systems
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Ramzy Mardini
  • Publication Date: 04-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani will be visiting the White House on April 4 and meeting with President Barack Obama. Discussions are likely to involve Kurdish concerns about Iraq's prime minister, but may largely focus on defining what Vice President Joseph Biden termed as a "special relationship" between the U.S. and Kurds during his visit to Arbil last December. Relations between the governments of the United States and Kurdish Region have grown and deepened considerably since the 2003 U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq. The Kurds continued to be staunch proponents of the American presence and ongoing engagement in Iraq.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Bilateral Relations, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Stephen Wicken
  • Publication Date: 06-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Opponents of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have been pushing for his removal from power for much of his second term in office. In recent months, Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani and leaders from the Iraqiyya list have turned to an effort to withdraw confidence in Maliki as prime minister. Iraq's Shi'ite parties, though concerned about Maliki's accumulation of power, have largely abstained from the no-confidence push. Yet the anti-Maliki effort gained new life in mid-April when the powerful Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr intensified his opposition to Maliki and voiced his intention to remove the premier. Sadr's push for a no-confidence vote is an important inflection not only in his own posture towards Maliki, but also in the ongoing political crisis in Iraq. It has prompted a backlash from Iran, which has supported Maliki by seeking to restrain Sadr and to prevent a vote of no confidence. This backgrounder explores the possible calculus and responses of Sadr, Iran, and Maliki as Iraq's governmental stalemate continues to drag on.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Government, Regional Cooperation, Governance, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kurdistan
  • Author: Stephen Wicken
  • Publication Date: 09-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: On Sunday, Iraqs Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi was sentenced to death by hanging after he and his son-in-law were convicted of organizing the murders of a security official and a lawyer. All told, Hashemi is subject to more than 150 charges of terrorism based upon allegations that he used death squads to target his political opponents. The verdict carries distressing implications for short-term domestic security in Iraq and for diplomatic relations with neighboring Turkey, where Hashemi currently resides and has been based since his trial began. While some observers view the case against Hashemi in purely sectarian terms, the targeting of a Sunni politician in a Shiite-led state, the sentence in fact highlights the pernicious nature of personal rivalries within Iraqi politics. Further, it demonstrates the politicization of the Iraqi judicial system under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has commandeered Iraq's legal institutions in order to consolidate power around his inner circle.
  • Topic: Democratization, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Turkey, Middle East
  • Author: Sam Wyer
  • Publication Date: 09-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Since the withdrawal of U.S. Forces from Iraq in December 2011, the rate and lethality of attacks against civilian targets have steadily risen. Most notably, there have been seven major attack waves, defined here as a series of simultaneous and coordinated attacks that target at least 10 cities within one day. The attacks targeted a combination of security posts, government facilities, and Shi'ite shrines and neighborhoods. The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), an umbrella organization formed in 2006 for many Sunni insurgency groups including al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), has claimed credit for a large majority of these attacks.3 This summer has seen a further alarming development with the announcement of ISI's "Destroying the Walls" campaign.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Marisa Cochrane Sullivan, James Danly
  • Publication Date: 04-2010
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Seven of the eight names of the Accountability and Justice Commission's additional candidates for disqualification, based upon the de-Baathification law, were released today by Haider al-Mullah, spokesman for the Iraqi List. These individuals join Ibrahim al-Mutlak, who was among the 52 candidates named prior to the election, but whose disqualification at the time was denied by IHEC for having been named too late in the election process.On April 26, 2010, the three-judge election panel nullified their candidacies in response to an appeal submitted by the State of Law List, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
  • Topic: Democratization, Armed Struggle, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Marisa Cochrane Sullivan
  • Publication Date: 03-2010
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: This backgrounder provides an update on the political landscape in Iraq on the eve of parliamentary elections. The paper begins with a brief overview of the electoral process. The second part of the backgrounder documents the Shi'a, Sunni, and Kurdish political landscapes. This paper concludes with some considerations on the post-election period of government formation.
  • Topic: Islam, Armed Struggle, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: James Danly
  • Publication Date: 02-2010
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: This backgrounder is an update to the ISW publication dated January 14, 2010 and entitled "Sunni Politicians Barred from Candidacy." The political landscape in Iraq has changed dramatically. Multiple government entities and politicians have weighed-in on the issue of the candidate ban, various politicians have claimed un due foreign involvement by different governments and, as the elections draw near, Iraq's already tense politics have become even more divisive. The candidates' ban has sparked widespread claims of legal and constitutional illegitimacy, threats of election boycotts and a nationwide rise in vehement anti-Ba'athism. This political environment threatens the legitimacy of Iraq's second national elections since the fall of the Ba'athist regime in 2003. The following paper briefly details and analyzes the events that have unfolded since the publication of the original.
  • Topic: Democratization, Armed Struggle, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Marisa Cochrane
  • Publication Date: 09-2007
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: The Rusafa security district provides an interesting look at a complex Baghdad neighborhood with strategic significance and changing demographics; it is an area in which U.S. and Iraqi forces have sought to revive and stabilize the political and economic life, while combating extreme violence caused by Jaysh al-Madhi (JAM) militias and al-Qaeda insurgents. Rusafa is a mix of large markets, government ministries, bus stations, educational institutions such as Mustansiriya University, hotels, hospitals, and the Rule of Law Green Zone. Yet, the district has also been plagued by sectarian violence and deadly car bombs, which often target Rusafa's markets and bus stations.
  • Topic: Security, Armed Struggle, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq
  • Author: Patrick Gaughen
  • Publication Date: 09-2007
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: The neighborhoods of Washash and Iskan are located in the northeast corner of the Mansour Security District in Baghdad. These historically mixed areas lay on the fault line between Shia-dominated neighborhoods to the north in Hurriya and Kadhimiyah and Sunni-dominated neighborhoods to the west and south, including the Sunni strongholds of 'Adl, Jamia, Khadra, and al-Mutannabi. As such, they have witnessed vicious sectarian cleansing by Shia militias anreprisal operations likely conducted by Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) or other Sunni insurgent groups.
  • Topic: Islam, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Patrick Gaughen
  • Publication Date: 11-2007
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for the Study of War
  • Abstract: Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq, has argued that even as security improves in Baghdad, neighborhoods on the fault lines between the Shia and Sunni communities will be among the "last to settle." The neighborhood of Saydiyah, located in southwestern Baghdad, is such a place. Over the last year, it has become one of the principal battlegrounds for the territorial war between Shia militias and Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in Baghdad. Located in the western end of the Rashid Security District, Saydiyah was formerly a mixed neighborhood, with a Sunni majority. Prior to the invasion in 2003, many officials in Saddam's government lived in the area, and following the outbreak of the war, it became a stronghold for the Sunni insurgency. Although Al-Qaeda and other Sunni insurgent factions initially cooperated in Saydiyah, it appears that Al-Qaeda slowly pushed out the other Sunni groups, while simultaneously intensifying violence against the Shia residents of the neighborhood. The reaction from Shia militias and Shia-dominated government security forces led to extraordinary violence during the summer of 2007. US forces have sponsored an Awakening group in the Sunni community to protect them from Shia predation and remove the need for Al-Qaeda's protection services. They have also worked to sponsor sectarian reconciliation through local notables and tribal elements, but it appears that these efforts have not yielded the kinds of success witnessed further to the south in Mahmudiyah, or the Abu Disheer - Hawr Rajab area.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq