ISHM Reference Guide
We hope that this Reference Guide is useful for providing a deeper understanding of Iraq’s security, humanitarian, and political developments. We strive to provide accurate and objective information by updating this resource periodically. However, if you discover an error, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and your concern will be investigated by our research team. Last Revision: May 2020
CoR: Council of Representatives
CTS: Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service
IDP: Internally Displaced Person
IRGC: Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps
ISIS: Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham
IED: Improvised Explosive Device
KDP: Kurdistan Democratic Party
KRG: Kurdistan Regional Government
KRI: Kurdistan Region of Iraq
PMF: Popular Mobilization Forces
PUK: Patriotic Union of Kurdistan
VBIED: Vehicle-Based Improvised Explosive Device
Iran: Iran has significant influence in Iraq due to geography, economic ties, religion, and strong ties with many Iraqi political and militia leaders dating back to the Iran-Iraq war. While many religious, political, and military actors in Iraq partner with Iran for pragmatic or ideological reasons, there are constraints on Iran’s leverage. Iran’s meddling in Iraqi politics has at times caused backlash among Iraqi nationalists who see the country’s actions as an insult to Iraqi sovereignty, and many resent the many ways in which Iran has stoked sectarian conflict in Iraqi society, or attempted to dominate its politics. Iran’s goal of promoting Shia unity has not come to fruition — significant Shia powers (Sadrists, Hikma and former Prime Minister Abadi) take pride in independence from Iranian influence. Moreover, infighting exists among the many Iranian-backed PMF factions, whose abuses also alienate Sunni communities, and Iran’s political proxies in the Badr Organization and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq have struggled to promote Shia unity above personal and tribal politics. Iran’s provision of weapons, military support, and advisers to Iraq to support the fight against ISIS has increased public approval of Iran among Iraqis and has brought the countries closer together. Yet, as other nations reach out to Iraq with military support and economic agreements Iran may find its influence diminished. The United States has voiced concern over Iranian influence in Iraq, and U.S. military installations have taken steps to increase security in light of threats by some Iran-backed PMF factions who protest continued U.S. presence.
Jordan: Jordan publicly opposed the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 for domestic political reasons and privately counseled the U.S. against it, warning of the possibility of a civil war that could spill across borders. Given the country’s economic dependence on the U.S., however, it cooperated with the war effort. After Saddam’s overthrow, Jordan worked to establish a secure and stable relationship with the new government in Baghdad, and the countries collaborated on counterterrorism measures, including training programs for Iraqi Police and Special Forces from 2004-2007. Despite underlying tensions, Jordan and Iraq have maintained close relations since, and have signed numerous agreements on trade, energy, infrastructure, and counterterrorism.
Russia: While critical of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Russia worked to establish close ties to the new government and reassert its economic position in Iraq once U.S. forces gained control. Russia and Iraq have since signed agreements to increase cooperation on trade, development, and energy. After the 2014 rise of ISIS, Russia was ready to offer military assistance to Iraq to support counterterrorism efforts, further demonstrating Russia’s desire to assert itself as a hegemon in the Middle East and challenge U.S. influence. Russia is heavily involved in Syria and has used flight paths through Iraq to launch attacks purportedly aimed at ISIS. Moscow had also sought to establish a quadrilateral intelligence sharing center in Baghdad to further cooperation between Russia, Iraq, Iran and Syria, though the effectiveness of this move remains questionable. Currently, the bulk of Iraq’s attack helicopter fleet is comprised of Russian-made Mi-35 and Mi-28 gunships. Iraq’s armored forces have also been receiving T-90 Russian tanks starting in February 2018.
Saudi Arabia: After keeping Baghdad at arm’s-length for over a decade, Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Iraq in January 2016 in a move to strengthen the regional alliance against ISIS. But Saudi Arabia’s relations with Iraq are strained by differing views regarding regional issues, especially in regards to Iran and its proxy Hezbollah. Saudi Arabia is a majority Sunni country and has been critical of the marginalization of Sunnis in Shia-dominated Iraq since 2003 and sectarian violence by Iran-funded Shia militias. In January 2016, the Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, accused Iran of supporting radical violence by funding sectarian militias in Iraq, to which former Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari responded, in an Arab League meeting in March 2016, that “Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces and Lebanon’s Hezbollah preserved the dignity of the Arabs”, and added that Saudi Arabia itself was the terrorist. Iraq has also openly criticized Saudi Arabia’s air campaign in Yemen, heightening tensions between the nations. Despite these tensions, in 2017, Iraq signed the Saudi-Iraqi Coordination Council agreement which signaled a high point in Saudi-Iraqi rapprochement that has already included the reopening of borders, resumption of air and trade routes, and reestablishment of diplomatic delegations. In February 2018, Saudi Arabia pledged $ 1.5 billion in aid to assist Iraq in reconstruction after the battle with ISIS.
Syria: The Syrian Civil War beginning in 2011 has posed a challenge for Baghdad, which has taken a more pro-Assad stance than the rest of the Arab world. In the eyes of many Iraqi policymakers, if a Sunni Islamist regime or terrorist organization like ISIS were to seize power in Syria, it would have serious implications for Iraq. Both Syria and Iraq have experienced occupation of major territories within their borders by ISIS. Both have various international actors participating in the fight against ISIS on their turf while simultaneously vying for regional influence, including Russia, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, and Turkey.
Turkey: Turkey and Iraq share a close historical and cultural heritage, but their relationship has been turbulent since 2011. Turkey’s animosity towards the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a left-wing organization designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey and the U.S., has strained relations with the central Iraqi Government: Turkish security forces have crossed into Iraq and used Iraqi military bases to launch attacks on PKK cells- a policy perceived to undermine Iraqi sovereignty. Since 2010the Turkish Government has established close ties with the now former President of the KRI, Masoud Barzani, and his KDP, further alienating Baghdad. Ankara’s relations with the KRG remain cordial despite setbacks following the KRG’s failed independence referendum in September 2017. The current turmoil in Syria has further complicated the relationship between Turkey and Iraq, as Turkey is strongly backing the Free Syrian Army. Baghdad continues to consider Bashar al-Assad’s as the legitimate government of Syria, while the KRG in Iraq is aiding Syrian Kurdish rebel groups. More directly, relations between Iraq and Turkey were strained over Turkey’s creation in 2015 of a new military base in Bashiqa near Mosul on basis of training local Sunni fighters to join the war against ISIS, a move that Iraq ardently rejected. The base has become a perennial source of tension between the two countries.
THE GOVERNMENT OF IRAQ
Structure of the Government of Iraq: According to the 2005 Iraqi constitution, “the Republic of Iraq is a single federal, independent and fully sovereign state in which the system of government is republican, representative, parliamentary, and democratic, and [the] Constitution is a guarantor of the unity of Iraq.” The political system in Iraq is a multi-party system in which executive power is exercised not only by the Prime Minister, who acts as the head of government, but also by the President of Iraq. Legislative power is vested in the Council of Representatives and a-yet to be established- Federation Council. The federal government is composed of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as well as numerous independent commissions.
- The Executive Branch: Comprises the Presidency Council, which is made up of the President, a maximum of three Vice Presidents (former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi eliminated these positions, they have not been filled since), and the Council of Ministers which includes the Prime Minister, two deputy Prime Ministers, and 22 Ministers. The Council of Minister is the main component of the executive branch, tasked with making and implementing national policies.
- The Judicial Branch: Higher Judicial Council, the Federal Supreme Court over which nine judges preside, the Court of Cassation, the Public Prosecution Department, and the Judiciary Oversight Commission, as well as other federal courts.
- The Legislative Branch / Parliament (also: Council of Representatives): The unicameral legislature of Iraq that is composed of 329 seats held by Members of the CoR. The CoR members are elected to four year terms, with two sessions in each annual term. It discusses and passes federal laws, oversees the executive, ratifies treaties, and approves nominations of specified officials. It elects the President of the Republic, who selects a prime minister-designate from the majority coalition in the CoR, who in turn selects the Council of Ministers, who have to be approved by the CoR.
Parliament Committees: Headed by a Member of Parliament. Committees are responsible for oversight of Ministers and the Ministries in the Council of Ministers.
- Agriculture, Water Resources and Marshes
- Civil Society organizations
- Culture and Media
- Deportees and Displaced
- Economics and Investment
- Endowments and Religious Affairs
- Foreign relations
- Health and Environment
- Human Rights
- Labor and Social Affairs
- Legal Committee
- Martyrs, victims, and Political Prisoners
- Members Affairs and Parliament Development
- National Reconciliation and Accountability & Justice
- Oil and Energy
- Regions and Provinces Not Organized into Regions
- Security and Defense
- Services and Construction
- Tourism and Antiquities
- Women, Family and Children
- Youth and Sport
KEY POLITICAL FIGURES
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi: Mustafa al-Kadhimi assumed his position on May 7, 2020. He became Iraq’s second prime minister during the current election cycle following the resignation of former Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi in November. Kadhimi was born in 1967 in Baghdad and studied law in Iraq before going to exile abroad as a member of the Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein’s regime. Kadhimi was known for years as a civil society activist and journalist who contributed many articles to al-Monitor. In 2016, Kadhimi was tapped by former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to lead Iraq’s National Intelligence Service (INIS).
President Barham Salih: Barham Salih was elected president on October 2nd, 2018. He is a senior leader of the PUK but briefly left the party to compete in the 2018 election as the head of his own political entity named the Coalition for Democracy and Justice. Salih returned to the PUK after the elections and secured the party’s support for his nomination to the presidency. He previously served as KRG prime minister (October 2009-April 2012) and deputy prime minister of Iraq (May 2006-August 2009). Salih was the first Kurdish president from the PUK whose nomination was opposed by the KDP.
Vice President(s): In 2015, former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi abolished the positions of the Vice Presidents as part of a broader effort to streamline government and reduce waste. However, in October 2016, Iraqi Supreme Federal Court ruled this move was unconstitutional. The position remains unfilled as of September 2020.
Speaker of Parliament Mohammed al-Halbousi: Elected Speaker of Parliament on September 15, 2018. Halbousi was nominated by the Sunni Arab Hal party and had served as Governor of Anbar Province starting on August 29, 2017. A Sunni Muslim, he received a Masters degree in Highways and Roads Engineering at Al- Mustansiriya University in Baghdad.
KRG President Nechirvan Barzani: Elected President of the KRI in May 2019. Prior to that Barzani served as the KRG prime minister during two periods, from March 2006 to August 2009 and later from March 2012 to May 2019. Nechirvan is the nephew of former KRI president, Masoud Barzani. He is now the main authority figure and chief negotiator in the KRG.
KDP leader Masoud Barzani: The former President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (2005 – 2017) remains the most influential political actor in the KRI. Barzani gave up his position on November 1, 2017 after the unsuccessful referendum on Kurdish independence held September 25, 2017. His presidential authorities were redistributed among the KRG. Barzani has been the leader of the KDP since 1979. He is the son of Mustafa Barzani, the famous Kurdish revolutionary leader and founding president of the KDP.
KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani: Was confirmed in July 2019 as the new KRG prime minister following the September 2018 election in the KRI. Masrour has long been in charge of the KDP security and intelligence services, and since 2012, served as Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region’s National Security Council. He is the son of Masoud Barzani and cousin of Nechirvan Barzani.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Responsible for Iraq’s foreign relations with the international community.
- Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein: Confirmed on June 6, 2020. He is a leading member of the KDP who previously served as Masoud Barzani’s chief of staff and more recently as the Iraqi Minister of Finance under former Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi.
Ministry of Oil: Responsible for Iraqi petroleum and its membership to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
- Oil Minister Ihsan Ismael Abdul-Jabbar: Confirmed on June 6, 2020. He previously served as the head of the Basra Oil Company.
Ministry of Defense: Responsible for Iraq’s internal and external security and defense.
- Defense Minister Juma Inad Sadoun: Confirmed on May 7, 2020. Prior to his appointment as Defense Minister, General Sadoun (retired), served as the chief of the Iraqi military’s ground forces.
Ministry of Finance: Responsible for Iraq’s banks and finances.
- Finance Minister Ali Allawi: Confirmed on May 7, 2020. Born in 1947, Dr. Allawi is a respected academic and veteran Iraqi politician who assumed a number of senior positions under the U.S. occupation authority and Iraq’s transitional and interim governments after 2003: Minister of Trade in 2003, Minister of Defense in 2004, and Minister of Finance in 2005.
Ministry of Interior: Responsible for overseeing policing and border control in Iraq.
- Interior Minister Othman al-Gahnimi: Confirmed as on May 7, 2020. General Othman al-Gahnimi (retired) served as the chief of staff of the Iraqi army since 2017. Before that he held a number of senior command positions, including deputy chief of staff, head of the mid-Euphrates operations command, and commander of the army’s 8th mechanized division. Ghanimi enjoys a reputation of being a professional and non-sectarian commander.
- Ministry of Agriculture
- Ministry of Communications
- Ministry of Construction, Housing, Municipalities and Public Works
- Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities
- Ministry of Displacement and Migration
- Ministry of Education
- Ministry of Higher Education
- Ministry of Electricity
- Ministry of Health and Environment
- Ministry of Industry and Minerals
- Ministry of Justice
- Ministry of Trade
- Ministry of Transportation
- Ministry of Water Resources
- Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs
- Ministry of Planning
- Ministry of Youth and Sports
KEY POLITICAL PARTIES
Gorran (Movement for Change): The party was founded in 2009 by the late Peshmerga veteran and former PUK co-founder, Nawshirwan Mustafa. Mustafa left the PUK and founded Gorran to challenge the alleged corruption and nepotism of the two ruling Kurdish Parties, the KDP and PUK. Gorran is now the third largest major party in Kurdistan, having secured support from traditionally-PUK strongholds. The party controls several ministries in the new KRG cabinet, along with 5 seats in the Iraqi CoR and 12 seats in the KRI parliament.
Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP): Founded in 1946, the KDP is the oldest Kurdish political party. From its inception, the KDP has fought for Kurdish autonomy and independence from Iraq. Most recently, the KDP was the driving force behind the KRG referendum on independence in 2017. The KDP won a plurality of seats (45 out of 111) in the 2018 KRI parliamentary elections, allowing the party to dominate the KRG top positions, including the presidency (Nechirvan Barzani) and premiership (Masrour Barzani). The party also controls 25 seats in the Iraqi CoR and 45 seats in the KRI parliament.
Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK): The PKK is a left-wing organization based in Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Since 1984 the PKK has waged an armed struggle against the Turkish state for cultural and political rights and self-determination for the Kurds in Turkey, who comprise between 18% and 25% of the Turkish population. The PKK maintains bases in the Qandil Mountains area in the KRI, which are often targeted by Turkish airstrikes, as well as near Sinjar. The U.S., like Turkey, considers the PKK a terrorist organization.
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK): The PUK is a leftist Iraqi-Kurdish political party that was co-founded by late Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and other Kurdish activists. The PUK splintered from the KDP in the mid 1970’s after the KDP’s Mustafa Barzani-led Peshmerga was defeated by the Iraqi Army and fled to Iran. The PUK describes its goals as self-determination, human rights, democracy, and peace for the Kurdish people of Kurdistan and Iraq. The PUK is the second most influential party in the KRI and, since 2005, has held the presidency of the Republic of Iraq. The PUK controls 18 seats in the Iraqi CoR and 21 seats in the KRI parliament.
New Generation Movement: The newest of political parties in the KRI. It was established by media and real estate businessman Shaswar Abdul-Wahid in 2018. New Generation considers itself an opposition party and did not join negotiations to form the new KRG cabinet following the September 2018 election. In 2019 the party endured several controversies from gender discrimination to the resignation of high ranking party members who then publically spoke out against Abdul-Wahid. The party occupies 4 seats in the Iraqi CoR and 8 seats in the KRI parliament.
Kurdistan Islamic Union (Yekgirtû): Describes itself as an Islamic reform party that strives to solve all political, social, economic and cultural challenges of the people in Kurdistan from an Islamic perspective. The party controls 2 seats in the Iraqi CoR and 5 seats in the KRI parliament.
Kurdistan Islamic Group: In May 2001 Ali Bapir, a Kurdish Islamist politician, established the Kurdistan Islamic Group. The party won 2 seats in the Iraqi CoR and 7 seats in the KRI parliament. Both Islamic parties have been excluded from the current KRG cabinet of Prime Minister Masrour Barzani.
The National Movement for Development and Reform (Al-Hal) Party: A Sunni Arab party formed and dominated by Jamal al-Karbouli, his brother Mohammed and their associates. Jamal is a medical doctor who previously served as president of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society. The Karboulis’ tribe is from the western part of Anbar but their party has been expanding into other Sunni-majority provinces. CoR Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi is a senior member of al-Hal. The party and affiliated groups won 16 seats in the CoR.
The Arab Project: A group of Sunni Arab politicians led by financier Khamis al-Khanjar. Khamis had previously kept his distance from the formal political process and championed proposals for a Sunni Arab autonomous region, along the lines of the KRI, as a means to protect their community from government excesses.
Al-Qarar Al-Iraqi (Decision): A Sunni Arab party formed and led by former Vice President and former CoR Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, along with his brother and former Ninewa governor Atheel al-Nujaifi. The Nujiafi brothers are known for having strong ties with Turkey and have previously lobbied for creating an autonomous region in Ninewa province. The party is the successor to the Nuhaifis’ Mutahidoon coalition. It won 14 seats in the 2018 election.
National People’s Party: A Sunni Arab party formed and led by controversial politician Ahmed Abdullah al-Jubouri (Abu Mazin). Jubouri served as governor of Salah ad-Din between 2013 and 2014 and was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury in July 2019 for “corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.”
Iraqi National List: A coalition of Iraqi political groups that is dominated by the Iraqi National Accord Party. The Iraqi National List was created to offer a secular, cross-community alternative, composed of both Sunni and Shia, to early sectarian coalitions that dominated post-2003 politics. Its leaders include former Vice President Ayad Allawi, former CoR Speaker Saleem al-Jubouri and former Deputy Prime Minister Salih al-Mutlaq. The group’s high water mark was in 2010 when it won a plurality of seats (91) in the CoR but failed to secure enough political support to form a government. The group won 21 seats in the CoR following the 2018 general election.
- Iraqi National Accord (INA): Founded in 1990 and headed by former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. The INA was one of the prominent opposition groups that received funding and support from the U.S. before the overthrow of Saddam’s regime. INA membership consisted largely of military and security personnel who had defected from the Iraqi army.
Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF): A political movement founded in 1955 that seeks to represent the Iraqi Turkmen people. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the ITF has unsuccessfully sought to assert itself in Kirkuk and other areas in Northern Iraq, where Baghdad-Erbil territorial disputes overshadow claims by other constituencies. They hold three seats in the CoR.
National Rafidain List: Al-Rafidain National List (or Mesopotamia List) is the name used by the Assyrian Democratic Movement, an ethnic Assyrian political party in Iraq. It is currently the only Assyrian-based political party voting in the Iraqi Parliament during Iraqi elections. The party was established on April 12, 1979 to address the political objectives of the Assyrian people in Iraq, in response to the oppressive brutality of the Baath regime and its attempts to forcibly expropriate ethnic Assyrians from their native lands. It is headed by Yunadam Kanna.
Iraqi Communist Party: Since its founding in 1934, it has dominated the left in Iraqi politics. The party played a fundamental role in shaping the political history of Iraq between its foundation and the 1970s. It suffered heavily under the Baathist regime and Saddam Hussein’s rule, but remained an important part of the Iraqi political opposition. The party aligned itself with the Sadrist-led Saeroun alliance during the 2018 election, in which it won 2 seats in the CoR.
State of Law Coalition (SoL): An Iraqi political coalition that was formed by then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to compete in the 2009 (local) and 2010 (general) elections. SoL was able to win 89 seats in the 2010 election, giving Maliki (then incumbent prime minister) a chance to outmaneuver his main rivals in the Iraqi National List and secure a second term in office. SoL lost much power after Maliki failed to win a third term in office in 2014 when his administration was widely blamed for the rise of ISIS and the loss of Mosul and many other Iraqi cities. The coalition was able to win only 25 seats in the May 2018 election, and has since joined the Fatah (Conquest) coalition, led by Hadi al-Amiri, to form the Binaa alliance.
Badr Organization: Formed in 1983 under the name “the Badr Brigades,” the group originally served as the military wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), an Iraqi Shia political party aimed at bringing Iran’s Islamic Revolution to Iraq. After years in Iran, the Badr Organization reentered Iraq in 2003 where many of its fighters were integrated into Iraq’s newly created security forces. Badr is both a Shia political party and paramilitary force that is often described as Iran’s oldest and most powerful proxy in Iraq. It is currently led by Hadi al-Amiri and makes up the majority of the 48 seats won by the Fatah (Conquest) coalition in the May 2018 election.
Sadiqoun: The political wing of Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) which won 15 seats in the May 2018 election as part of the Fatih (Conquest) alliance with the Badr Organization. AAH is a powerful Shia Muslim militia that splintered from the Sadrist movement in 2007. Its leader, Qais al-Khazali, was imprisoned by the U.S. authorities in Iraq for five years for his role in deadly attacks on U.S. troops in 2007. More recently, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo named Khazali among those responsible for the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on December 31, 2019. On January 3, 2020 the U.S.State Department designated the Asaib as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and Khazali a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.
Islamic Dawa Party: Founded in 1957 but it wasn’t until the 1970s that Iraqi Shia cleric, Muhammad Baqr al-Sadr, laid out the foundations for the party and its political ideology, which is based on Wilayat Al-Umma (Governance of the people). It was heavily repressed under Saddam Hussein’s rule. Dawa is arguably the biggest and most well-supported Shia group in Iraq. The party is currently struggling with internal divisions and is polarized by rivalry between former prime ministers Nouri al-Maliki and his successor Haider al-Abadi. .
Saeroun: An electoral coalition that competed in the 2018 election and comprises the Sadrist movement and smaller reform-oriented groups, most notably the Communist party. The coalition won 54 seats in the 2018 election–the most won by any group–allowing it to position itself as the core of Islah, one of the two main coalitions in the CoR.
Sadrist Movement: An Iraqi national movement led today by radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The movement’s underground roots date back to the activism of Moqtada’s father, Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr in the mid-1990s. The movement made its public debut in 2003, first fighting the U.S. presence in Iraq and later the new Iraqi government with its Mahdi Army militia, before joining mainstream politics. The movement is paradoxically one of the most anti-American and anti-Iranian forces in Iraq. The religious and populist movement draws wide support across the country, especially among the Shia poor. The Mahdi Army, blamed for much of the sectarian violence in 2005-2007, was disbanded by Moqtada in 2008. The movement, however, reconstituted its armed wing, now known as Saraya al-Salam (the Peace Brigades), in 2014.
Nasr Coalition: Led by former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and comprises political figures from the Dawa party as well prominent Sunni figures such as former Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi, enabling the coalition to win a plurality of votes and seats in Ninewa in the 2018 election. On the national level, the group won 42 seats and joined the Saeroun-led (and short-lived) Islah coalition.
Al-Hikma Movement: A political coalition that entered the 2018 elections in Iraq led by Ammar al-Hakim, former president of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. Al-Hikma’s predecessor was Al-Muwatin, a broad alliance of 23 various Iraqi, primarily Shia, political entities that formed a coalition for the 2014 Iraqi parliamentary election.The group won 19 seats in the CoR in the 2018 general election. Hikma’s platform focuses on youth empowerment and political reform and, in the summer of 2019, the group announced its move into political opposition after initially supporting the government of Adil Abdul-Mahdi as part of the Saeroun-led Islah coalition.
KEY MILITARY FIGURES
- General Abdul Wahab al-Saidi: The head of Iraq’s CTS. Saidi had gained hero status for his leadership role in the battles to liberate several Iraqi cities from ISIS, including Fallujah, Baiji, Tikrit, and most notably Mosul. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi appointed him to the position after he was removed as second in command by former Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi in September 2019.
- Major General Shihab Jahid Ali: Commander of Iraq’s air force.
- Staff Major General Samir Zeki: Commander of army aviation.
- Pending: Chief of Staff of the Iraqi army
- Staff Maj. Gen. Numan Abdul al-Zuba’i: Head of Ninewa Operations Command. Replaced Maj. Gen. Najim Abdullah al-Jabbouri who retired in June 2019.
- Staff Maj. Gen. Abdul Mohsen al-Abbasi: Head of the Salah ad-Din Operations Command. Former chief of the Diyala Operations Command.
- Maj. Gen. Hamid Namis al-Jubouri: Head of Anbar Operations Command.
- Lt. Gen. Qais al-Mohammadawi: Head of Baghdad Operations Command. Replaced Major General Abdul-Hussein al-Temimi who passed away in June 2020.
- Staff Maj. Gen. Akram Saddam: Head of Basra Operation Command.
- Staff Maj. Gen. Raad Mahmoud al-Jubouri: Head of Diyala Operations Command.
- Staff Maj. Gen. Maj. Gen. Jabbar Naima al-Tai: Head of the West Ninewa Operations Command, responsible for northwestern Iraq and the borders with Syria.
- Maj. Gen. Imad al-Silawi: Head of the Sumer Operations Command, responsible for Dhi-Qar, Maysan, and al-Muthanna.
- Brigadier General Yahya Rasool: Iraqi army spokesman for the Joint Military Command in Iraq.
- Mustafa al-Khadimi: Is the head of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service. He was appointed by former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in 2016 and continues to serve in this position in addition to being prime minister.
- Shorish Ismael: The Minister of Peshmerga Affairs.
- Sarbast Lazgin: The Deputy Minister of Peshmerga Affairs.
- Lieutenant General Jamal Mohammed: The Peshmerga Chief of Staff.
U.S. Military and State Department
- Ambassador Matthew Tueller: Confirmed in May 2019. Tueller previously served as U.S. ambassador to Yemen starting in 2014. Tueller speaks fluent Arabic. He also served as envoy to Kuwait and in senior diplomatic positions at U.S. missions in Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
- General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr.: Head of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM). Gen. McKenzie previously served with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, Afghanistan as Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Stability, and subsequently as the Director, J-5, Strategic Plans and Policy, Joint Staff. Gen McKenzie assumed his current command in March 2019.
- Deputy Chief of Mission Steven Fagin: Fagin is the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. From 2018 to 2020 he served as Consular General in Erbil. He replaced Joey Hood who now works in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.
- Consular General Rob Waller: Waller stepped in as Consul General in Erbil on July 1, 2020 when Steven Fagin became Deputy Chief of Mission. Previously he served as Minister-Counselor for Political and Economic Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the U.N., Consul General in Dubai, and Director for Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian Affairs at the National Security Council..
- Lt. Gen. Pat White: Lt. Gen. Pat White is the Commanding General, Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. White completed combat tours as a part of Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, and Inherent Resolve. He became the Commanding General of the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command – Operation Inherent Resolve in 2017 and was promoted to his current position in September, 2019. He also commands the U.S. III Corps in Fort Hood, Texas.
- Consular General Timmy Davis: A former U.S. Marine, Davis became Consul General for the U.S. Consulate in Basra in July 2017. Before that he worked overseas in Guatemala City, Najaf, Canberra, Basra, and Bogota. Other key positions Davis held include Director for Iraq at the National Security Council and the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Special Presidential Envoy to Counter-ISIL. The U.S. Consulate in Basra has been temporarily closed since September, 2018 due to security concerns amid rising tensions with Iran and allied militias.
- Amir Mohammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla: (a.k.a. Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qarayshi, Abdul Amir Muhammad Sa’id Salbi) The current leader of ISIS. An ISIS “shura council” declared his appointment on October 31, 2019, three days after a U.S. raid in northern Syria resulted in the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Al-Mawla was an army officer under Saddam and joined al-Qaeda following the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. He spent time in the U.S. run Camp Bucca where he first met al-Baghdadi. The U.S. Department of State declared him a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in March, 2020.
- Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: Killed in a U.S. Special Forces raid on October 26, 2019 in Syria. Baghdadi was the head of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham since 2010, when he declared his so-called “caliphate” in the territories of Iraq and Syria in 2014. While his pre-ISIS history is poorly documented, he was believed to have worked as a cleric in a mosque in Samarra during the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. After that, he joined an insurgent group, the Assembly of the Helpers of the Sunni, before being detained by the U.S. in early 2004. Conflicting reports indicate he was released anywhere between 10 months and six years later, but he almost certainly spent some time in the infamous U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison and Camp Bucca. Afterwards, he joined Al Qaeda in Iraq and rose to become a senior member of the organization. By 2010, he had broken with Al Qaeda to found ISIS, and by 2014, his organization had conquered large swaths of Iraq and Syria following the power vacuum left by Syria’s civil war and the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2011. Since 2010, he had appeared in public only once, to deliver a speech at Mosul’s now-destroyed al-Nouri mosque in 2014.
- Abu Ahmad al-Alwani: A senior commander in ISIS and one of three members of the ISIS’s military council. Formerly an officer in the Iraqi Army under Saddam Hussein, Alwani was reported to have been killed by a U.S.-led international coalition airstrike in 2014. However, many new sources still refer to him as an active member of ISIS’s leadership.
- Abu Fatima al-Jaheishi: A senior official in the inner circle of ISIS, serves as the ISIS deputy leader in Iraq. Formerly in charge of ISIS operations in southern Iraq, Jaheishi succeeded Abu Muslim al-Turkmani as overall leader of ISIS’s Iraqi territory, following Turkmani’s assassination via U.S. drone strike in August of 2015.
- Abu Muhammad al-Shimali: Killed in Syria during a Russian airstrike in September, 2017. He was a key leader in the charge of ISIS’s Immigration and Logistics Committee — facilitating the travel of foreign fighters and equipment through Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Europe, North Africa, and the Arab Peninsula.
- Mohamed Mahmoud: Killed in a U.S. airstrike in November, 2018. He was an Austrian ISIS militant and senior leader in the Islamic State. Mahmoud was trained in 2002 to fight the United States in Iraq, but was arrested prior to the U.S. invasion. He is the founder of the Organization of the Islamic Youth and became a leader in the Global Islamic Media Front. While his origins within the Islamic State are unknown, he apparently joined after meeting with Turki Mubarak Abdullah Ahmad al-Binali, a Grand Mufti of the Islamic State, in Libya.
- Ayad Hamid Khalaf Al-Jumaili: A former Saddam era intelligence officer from Fallujah that joined the Sunni insurgency after U.S. forces invaded Iraq in 2003. He heads ISIS’s intelligence and public security “amniyat” force. The Iraqi Air Force (IAF) announced that he had been killed in an IAF airstrike in April of 2017, but the report remains unconfirmed by outside sources.
Popular Mobilization Forces: Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) are a loosely-organized umbrella of armed groups founded in 2014 to fight ISIS, following the terrorist organization’s capture of Mosul and much of western Iraq. While many of these militias existed before 2014, they were united under the PMF umbrella after Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most widely respected Shia clerics, issued a fatwa on June 13, 2014 calling for all Iraqis to rise up and fight against ISIS. The PMF were formally incorporated into the Iraqi armed forces in December 2016. On March 8, 2018, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi introduced a proclamation incorporating members of the PMF into the Iraqi Security Forces, granting them the same salary as members of the military, subjecting them to the same laws, and granting them access to military schools and institutes. In spite of these and subsequent government attempts to regulate and control the PMF, many of the PMF most powerful factions continue to operate outside the formal chain of command and conduct illegal political, economic and security activities. PMF are predominantly Shia and frequently supported directly by Iran, though many PMF brigades have more diverse backgrounds and strong relationships with the Sunni community of Iraq. Below are several of the most prominent PMF groups.
- Asaib Ahl Al Haq (AAH): One of the most powerful Iranian-backed Shia armed groups in Iraq, they were a major force fighting ISIS in Iraq. AAH receives training and funding from Iran’s Al-Quds force, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Formed in 2006 by Qais al-Khazali, the militia has approximately 10,000 members and seeks to promote Iran’s political and religious influence in Iraq and reduce Western influence on the country. AAH conducted over 6,000 attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces from 2006-2011. Following the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, AAH shifted its focus towards engagement in the political process.
- Badr Organization: Considered one of the most powerful militias within the PMF framework. Led by Hadi al-Amiri, the Badr Brigade was originally an Iranian-officered military wing of the Shia political party, the Iraqi Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI, now rebranded as the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, ISCI), and was tasked with bringing the Iranian Islamic Revolution to Iraq. The Badr Brigade fought the Iraqi military in the Iran-Iraq War from 1980 to 1988, and continued to carry out attacks in the south of Iraq until Saddam Hussein’s regime fell in 2003. Taking advantage of the political vacuum after the U.S.-led international coalition invasion, the Badr Brigade rebranded themselves as the Badr Organization of Reconstruction and Development and publicly pledged to abstain from violent acts. The Badr Brigade reportedly launched a sectarian war on Iraq’s Sunni population from 2004 to 2007.
- Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH): Iranian-sponsored, anti-American Shia militia operating in Iraq with ancillary operations in Syria. Today, KH is the only Shia militia organization in Iraq that is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, and remains among the most secretive and elite of militia forces operating in the country. It maintains close ties with the Lebanese Hezbollah, as well as with Tehran — according to a RAND study, “[KH]…is used as a tool to ‘export the Islamic revolution’ as practiced in Tehran.” As of 2008, KH was funded by Iran’s IRGC-QF, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. Iraqi-born Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi (a.k.a Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis) is the group’s leader, as well as Iraq’s deputy national security advisor and the deputy commander of the PMF umbrella.
- Al-Abbas Combat Division: The Al-Abbas group was founded after 2014 in response to Sistani’s fatwa against ISIS. With no pre-ISIS roots, it is considered relatively loyal to Sistani and much more independent from Iran than other predominantly Shia militias that had previously fought the U.S.-led coalition from 2003-2011. It receives both military weaponry and orders directly from the Ministry of Defense, and has avoided the sectarian criticisms leveled against other Shia groups, even as it has worked to clear overwhelmingly Sunni cities including Baiji and Tikrit. Al-Abbas has just over 7,000 active-duty fighters, in addition to roughly 40,000 reserve members.
- Peace Brigades (formerly Mahdi Army): Formed by Muqtada al-Sadr in June 2003 in response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The Mahdi Army remained relatively unknown until April 2004 when Mahdi Army fighters and American troops clashed in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf — during which period the Mahdi Army seized Kut, Najaf, and parts of Basra before agreeing to a ceasefire with coalition forces in May 2004. Although Sadr announced in August 2013 that he would retire from political activity and dismantle the Mahdi Army, he reincarnated the force following ISIS incursions in northern Iraq in June 2014 — under the name, “Peace Brigades.” In January 2016, when Sadr reentered Iraqi politics by leading massive protests in central Baghdad, one of his demands was for the Iraqi government to absorb the Shiite militias — including the Peace Brigades — into the Iraqi Army.
- Babylon Brigade: The Babylon Brigades are a predominantly Christian PMF active in the Ninewa Plains area, centered around the town of Tal Kayf, about 8 kilometers north of Mosul. While Western media has focused on their identity as a Christian militia, their roughly 1,000 members include Shia Arabs and members of the Shabak minority group, and some reports indicate that the Badr organization transported new Arab members from outside Ninewa to join the Brigades after the battle for Mosul. The Babylon Brigade is part of the patchwork of militias that oversee security in the Ninewa Plains, and their territory overlaps with the Ninewa Plains Protection Unit (NPU, below: “Christian Armed Groups”), with whom they have clashed in the past over alleged acts of vandalism and unjust detentions.
- Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Qods Force (IRGC-QF): This is not a PMF, but rather the branch of the Iranian military responsible for extraterritorial operations. In Iraq, it has provided direct material, logistical, and training support for some PMF, primarily Kata’ib Hezbollah and Asa’ib Ahl Al Haq. IRGC-QF is headed by General Qassem Soleimani.
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga: The Peshmerga is by far the largest Kurdish fighting force in Iraq, with over 150,000 troops and far more heavy weaponry than any other armed groups in Iraq outside of the Iraqi military itself. The Peshmerga in Iraq is currently split into three factions, with the PUK and KDP parties each controlling roughly one third of the forces, and the KRG itself controlling the last third. Former KRG President Masoud Barzani called for integrating the forces in 2015, but as of March 2018, they were still split. Despite the diffuse command structure, the forces have largely cooperated in the fight against ISIS. The Peshmerga have existed in Iraq as a fighting force since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and they spent much of the 20th century fighting the government in Baghdad, finally succeeding in winning de facto autonomy in 1991. After 2003, they developed close ties with the Coalition, and focused on security issues within the de facto autonomous zone. Since 2014, they have emerged as one of the most effective groups fighting ISIS in the country. The Peshmerga have been an integral force in halting ISIS advances and retaking areas held by the militant group in Ninewa and Kirkuk. In addition to their military campaign against ISIS, the Peshmerga is the de facto security force for the KRG, as the Iraqi military is forbidden by law from entering the autonomous zone.
White Flags: The White Flags is a Kurdish militant group, ostensibly affiliated with ISIS and primarily active in the town of Tuz Khurmatu in Kirkuk Province. Tuz Khurmatu is one of the disputed areas between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government, where the KRG had resumed control after the withdrawal of the Iraqi Army in the summer of 2014. The group emerged more prominently after Iraqi Security Forces supported Iran-backed Shia Popular Mobilization Units in driving Kurdish forces out of 95% of the disputed areas and reestablished the 2003-constitutionally agreed upon border of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The KRG has denied any affiliation with the White Flags.
Yazidi Armed Groups
- Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS): The YBS is a predominantly Yazidi armed group active in Sinjar, a mostly Yazidi district in the Ninewa province that was the site of an ISIS-led genocide against the Yazidis in 2014. The YBS receives some funding from Baghdad, but they also have close ties to the Kurdish PKK, and the YBS’s ranks include some PKK veterans that provide support and training. As a result, there are tensions between the YBS and local Arab militias that view the organization as a Kurdish attempt at asserting control over the contested territory, which the many in the KRG would like to see as a part of an independent Kurdistan. The PKK and KRG are not necessarily always on the same side, however, and in March of 2017 armed clashes broke out between the YBS and the KRG’s Peshmerga in Sinjar, resulting in casualties on both sides.
- Protection Force of Ezdikhan (HPE): Also known as the Protection Force of Sinjar (HPS), Sinjar Defense Unit, or Sinjar Protection Force, the HPE was founded in 2014 by Haydar Shesho in response to the Yazidi genocide perpetrated by ISIS. It is the biggest Yazidi militia, but not the most active one. The HPE claims to be an independent and indigenous militia in the Sinjar District salaried by the Iraqi federal government. In March 2017, the HPE announced joining the Peshmerga forces and taking orders from the KRG.
Christian Armed Groups
- Ninewa Plains Protection Units (NPU): A predominantly Christian armed group that operates checkpoints and handles security issues in the Ninewa Plains, north of Mosul. The NPU was founded in 2014 in direct response to the atrocities committed by ISIS against Christians and other minority groups in the Ninewa Plains area. Christians in the Ninewa Plains felt that the KRG policy of disarming local militias prior to ISIS’s advance into the area left local towns vulnerable to ethnic cleansing and genocide, and the NPU is meant to fill that security vacuum to prevent similar events in the future. The NPU has approximately 500 members, and while they are technically under the PMF umbrella, they are largely independent from both Baghdad and other PMF, instead focusing on local security issues in the Ninewa Plains.
Shabak Armed Groups
- Shabak Militia (Quwat Sahl Ninewa): A predominantly Shabak armed group founded in 2014 in direct response to the atrocities committed by ISIS against religious minorities, including Shabak, on the Ninewa Plains. Estimates range between 500-1500 members in the organization, which operates under the PMF umbrella. As a PMF, the Shabak Militia is relatively pro-Baghdad, and opposes joining an independent Kurdistan, although such a move is popular with much of the Shabak population as a whole.
- Shabak Peshmerga: Approximately 500 Shabak fight in an all-Shabak unit within the ranks of the Kurdish Peshmerga. Unlike the Shabak Militia, they are much more in favor of joining the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), creating a rift in the Shabak community. The traditional homelands of the Shabak fall in the contested areas claimed by both Baghdad and Erbil.
Tribal Armed Groups
- Ninewa Guards (formerly Hashd al-Watani): A militia group founded in 2014 by the former Ninewa governor Atheel al-Nujaifi, based out of the KRG, with which it enjoys close relations. The predominantly Sunni force receives material, training, and political support from Turkey. It was projected to comprise 10,000-15,000 personnel from the Mosul area, although only around 4,000-5,000 have been trained thus far. Some analysts believe that the Hashd al-Watani will serve as a mechanism by which former governor Nujaifi can restore his political position in Ninewa. Following the launch of operations to expel ISIS from Mosul on 17 October 2016, the Hashd al-Watani changed its name to the Ninewa Guards.
Majority Religious Groups in Iraq (approximately 98.5% of total population)
- Shia Muslims: Constitute 60-65% of the population of Iraq. The majority of Shia in Iraq adhere to the Twelver school, who recognize 12 imams, the final of which disappeared from the earth and will return one day as al-Mahdi, or “the rightly guided one”, who will bring justice to the world. There are also Zaydi Shia in Iraq, who follow five imams, and Isma’ili Shia, who follow seven. Shia Muslims believe that Ali, the cousin of the prophet Muhammad, was the rightful successor to the prophet after his death. The original differences between Shia and Sunni were primarily political rather than doctrinal. Under Saddam Hussein’s regime, many Shia were pushed out of positions of power and replaced by Sunni Arabs, leading to resistance movements throughout Iraq but concentrated in the southern provinces. The southern provinces of Iraq are considered the Shia heartland, though there are Shia communities throughout all of Iraq. Shia have been targeted by Sunni insurgencies such as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and its successor, the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), who hoped to spark an all-out sectarian war. Al-Sayyid Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani is the spiritual leader and Grand Ayatollah of Shia Muslims in Iraq. Sistani is based in the Najaf Province, and has had a difficult relationship with Iraq’s leaders. While Saddam Hussein purged other Shia leaders, Sistani was left untouched and became a spiritual guide and important political figure for the Shia population in Iraq, even though his mosque was closed in 1994. After the United States toppled Hussein’s regime, Sistani issued a fatwa calling on Iraqi Shias to become more politically active so they could form their own future. Over the last decade, Sistani has urged Iraqi Shias to participate in the political process, advocated for the woman’s right to vote, and for the Shia community to not respond in kind to Sunni attacks.
- Sunni Muslims: Constitute 32-37% of the population of Iraq, and are ethnically split between Arabs and Kurds. Sunni and Shia share many beliefs but differ in opinion on the succession of the caliphate after Muhammad’s death. There are no major theological factions within Sunni Islam, although differences in the interpretation and application of Shariah law have produced different schools of jurisprudence. Sunni Arabs dominated the political and economic life of Iraq from around 1920 until the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The de-Baathification process post-Saddam was viewed by many tantamount to “de-Sunnification” leading to resentment and resistance among some Sunni communities in Iraq, which gave birth to Sunni insurgencies such as AQI and its successor, ISIS. There have been instances of persecution of Sunni residents in provinces and cities currently or previously held by ISIS by their Shia neighbors who suspect them of having allegiance to ISIS. Multiple Shia militias have been accused of abuses against Sunni civilians.
Minority Religious Groups in Iraq (~1.5% of total population)
- Ahl al-Haqq (Kaka’i): A religious minority in Iraq that practice Yarsanism, a syncretic religion. Ahl al-Haqq translates to “people of truth” in Arabic. Ahl al-Haqq are mostly ethnic Kurds and can be found in the provinces of Sulaymaniyah and Halabja, in the Ninewa Plains, and in villages to the southeast of Kirkuk, as well as in small communities in Erbil and Diyala provinces. There is little official recognition for Ahl al-Haqq, and the 2005 Iraqi Constitution and the KRG Constitution make no reference to the group as a religious community. As non-Muslims, they are targeted by ISIS, who killed over 200 members of Ahl al-Haqq by 2014.
- Baha’i: A monotheistic faith founded in 19th century Persia; currently the largest religious minority in Iran, where they are heavily persecuted for their faith. In Iraq, too, they have been oppressed, especially under Saddam Hussein’s regime, which confiscated Baha’is’ property and forbade them from registering their religion in civil records. Even after 2003, the Baha’i religion is still officially banned, adherents are still not allowed to list their religion on civil records, and they have not regained their confiscated property. There are no official statistics on Baha’is in Iraq, and their exact number and locations remain unknown due to adherents’ fear of revealing their identities.
- Christians: The majority of the Iraqi Christians belong to branches of Syriac Christianity whose followers are mostly ethnic Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Syriacs, and include the Chaldean Catholic Church, Syriac Orthodox Church, Syriac Catholic Church, Assyrian Church of the East, Ancient Church of the East, Assyrian Pentecostal Church, and Assyrian Evangelical Church. Armenian Christians in Iraq belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church or the Armenian Catholic Church. Other Christian branches include the Eastern Orthodox Church, Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Roman Catholic Church, and some Protestant churches. Christians in Iraq are frequently persecuted for their faith, and according to the CIA World Factbook, overall Christian population in Iraq may have dropped by as much as 50 percent since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003, with many fleeing to Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. ISIS targets Christians, giving them a choice between paying a jizya, or tax on “People of the Book,” conversion, or death. Christians are currently estimated to constitute .8% of the population of Iraq.
- Yazidis: Ethnically Kurdish adherents to a religion which combines aspects of Zoroastrianism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism. The majority of Yazidis in Iraq lived in Ninewa Province prior to 2014. Yazidis suffered along with other minority groups under Saddam Hussein’s Anfal Campaign and many were pressured to “Arabize” or “Kurdicize.” Yazidis are specifically recognized as a protected religious group under the 2005 Iraqi constitution. Yazidis have been heavily persecuted by ISIS since 2014, forced to choose between paying a jizya or being executed. An estimated 5,000 Yazidis have been killed by ISIS, thousands of Yazidi women and children have been abducted and sold into sex slavery, and tens of thousand of Yazidis have fled Iraq to avoid capture or execution by ISIS.
Majority Ethnicities in Iraq (approximately 95% of total population)
- Arabs (75-80% of population): “Arabs” refers to a heterogeneous group of Arabic-speaking people who belong to a diverse range of races and religions.
- Kurds (30-37% of the population): The Kurds are one of the indigenous people of the Mesopotamian plains and the highlands in what are now southeastern Turkey, northeastern Syria, northern Iraq, northwestern Iran and southwestern Armenia. The majority of Iraqi Kurds are Sunni, though there is also a small community of Shia Kurds, known as Feyli Kurds, as well as a Yazidi Kurdish population. Most Iraqi Kurds speak both Kurdish and Arabic. Young Kurds more commonly speak only Kurdish – indication of an important shift in Kurdish identity. Iraqi Kurds were the victims of ethnic cleansing under Saddam Hussein’s regime, notably during the Anfal campaign in 1988. Kurds were forced to register themselves as Arabs with the government or face expulsion and possible death. Today the majority of Iraqi Kurds today live in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), which comprises the northern provinces of Duhok, Erbil, Halabja, Sulaymaniyah. Control of some districts in Ninewa is contested between KRG and Iraqi Government.
Minority Ethnicities in Iraq (approximately 5% of total population)
- Armenians: An ethno-religious minority in Iraq with a community almost entirely in Baghdad, but with some presence around Mosul and Kirkuk. They are Christians, both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. Most are descended from refugees from Urumiya and eastern Anatolia who fled the 1915-18 Armenian genocide and settled in Iraq. As Christians, they are targets of violence by ISIS.
- Assyrians: Descend from ancient Mesopotamian peoples and speak Aramaic. They are Christians, belonging to one of four churches: the Chaldean (Uniate), Nestorian, Jacobite or Syrian Orthodox, and the Syrian Catholic. Assyrians form a distinct community, but with three origins: those who inhabited Hakkari in modern Turkey, who were predominantly tribal; a peasant community in Urumiya in Iran; and a largely peasant community in Amadiya, Shaqlawa and Rawanduz in Iraqi Kurdistan. Iraqi Assyrians today live mainly in major cities like Baghdad and rural areas of northern Iraq, especially in the Ninewa Plains. Assyrians, along with other Christian minorities, were especially affected by Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign. As Christians, Iraqi Assyrians are also targets of ISIS violence, and the spread of ISIS since 2014 resulted in their widespread displacement.
- Chaldeans: Broke away from the Assyrian Church in 1778. While sharing some rites the Assyrians, they affiliate with the Catholic Church and the Pope rather than with an Orthodox Patriarch. While the Assyrians generally insist on their ethnic difference from Arabs, many Chaldeans have tended to assimilate into Arab identity. Mosul and the Ninewa Plains were the historical home of Iraqi Chaldeans, but many have since moved to Baghdad or left Iraq as the Chaldean communities remaining in Ninewa are increasingly persecuted. The spread of ISIS since 2014 resulted in mass displacement of Iraqi Chaldeans, who are targeted by the group for their Christian faith.
- Circassians: People of North Caucasian origin, including Adyghes, Chechens and Dagestanis. The migration of North Caucasians to Iraq goes back many centuries, peaking during the Caucasian War (1817–1864) and in the aftermath of the Russian–Circassian War with the Circassian Exile of the 1860s. Though the exact number of Circassians in Iraq is unknown, it is estimated to be between 30,000 and 50,000. The largest communities are in Baghdad, Sulaymaniyah, Diyala, Kirkuk, and Fallujah, with smaller communities in Najaf, Hilla, Mosul, Kut, Basra, Tikrit, Arbil, Nasiriyah, Diwaniya, Duhok, Ramadi, Amarah, and Tuz Khurmatu. Circassians are predominantly Sunni. Many Circassians have assimilated into Iraqi populations, becoming “Arabized” or “Kurdicized.”
- Feyli Kurds: Shia Kurds who compose a minority within Iraq, with larger communities in Diyala and Baghdad provinces and others scattered in southeast Iraq. Feylis have historically lived in the border area between Iraq and Iran, in the Zagros Mountain range. Feyli Kurds had their Iraqi nationality revoked and were considered Iranian nationals during the rule of Saddam Hussein, and many were deported or targets of violence. Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stated in 2011 that over 22,000 Feyli Kurds had been deported from Iraq by the former regime. The Iraqi Minorities Council and Minority Rights Group International estimated that there were 1,000,000 Feyli Kurds in Iraq prior to 2003, but it is difficult to ascertain the current population.
- Mandaean (Sabeans): One of the smallest ethno-religious groups in the world. Mandaeans, like the Assyrians, are semitic people of indigenous ancient Mesopotamian heritage, and speak their own dialect of Aramaic, known as Mandaic. They adhere to Mandaeism, an ancient gnostic monotheistic religion. Since the outbreak of violence in 2003, most Mandaeans have fled the country or been killed, and the group is on the verge of extinction as a people. Mandaeans are specifically recognized as a protected people under the 2005 Iraqi constitution, yet the group is targeted by both Shia and Sunni militants, and prohibited by their religion to attempt armed self-defence. Mandaeans are especially targeted by ISIS. Those who were living in ISIS-occupied territories facde either forced conversions or death, since ISIS did not consider them to be ‘People of the Book’, or dhimmi, and did not offer them the option of paying jizya, or a tax on Christians and other dhimmi.
- Marsh Arabs (Ma’dan): Racially mixed Shia Arabs who have inhabited the marshlands of Southern Iraq for centuries, living in reed houses and practicing traditional methods of agriculture, fishing and water buffalo breeding. Saddam Hussein’s regime targeted the Marsh Arabs, destroying numerous villages through bombing and fire, which killed and displaced thousands, while simultaneously draining marshes and constructing dams along the Tigris and Euphrates, all but destroying Marsh Arab culture. This act was ruled an act of genocide by the Iraqi High Tribunal in 2010. Marsh Arabs today have sought representation through the Hezbollah Movement in Iraq and the Sadrist Movement.
- Shabak: Located in a handful of villages east of Mosul, in the Ninewa Plains, and a small group in Mosul itself (prior to 2014). Their language combines Turkish, Persian, Kurdish and Arabic. About 70% of Shabak are Shia, the rest Sunni. According to locals, the name “Shabak” is derived from Arabic shabaka, meaning intertwine, as an indication that the Shabak are composed of many different tribes, and can be Arab, Turkman, or Kurdish. Shabak were included in the “Arabization” policy under Saddam Hussein’s regime in an effort to consolidate control of the oil-rich north, and following the overthrow of the Saddam’s regime, Shabak in the Ninewa Plains have both faced harassment from Kurdish militants and encouragement to “Kurdicize” by Kurds wishing to extend land claims into the Ninewa Plains. Shabak were persecuted by ISIS as well, and many have been executed.
- Turkmen: Believed to be the third largest ethnic group in Iraq, residing almost exclusively in the north, in towns and villages from Tal Afar, west of Mosul, through Mosul, Erbil, Altun Kopru, Kirkuk, Tuz Khurmatu, Kifri and Khaniqin. Prior to 2003, there were between 600,000 and 2 million Turkmen, the former figure being the conservative estimate of outside observers and the latter a Turkoman claim. Turkmen are believed to be descendants of Turkic garrisons, or in the case of Shia Turkmen, fugitives from early Ottoman rule, though Turkmen claim to be descendents of the Seljuq Turks. Approximately 60% are Sunni, the rest Twelver Shia. They speak a Turkish dialect. Under Saddam Hussein’s regime, Turkmen were denied cultural, linguistic or political rights, and suffered alongside Kurds during Hussein’s Anfal campaign in 1988. Today Turkmen are frequently targets of ethno-sectarian violence, and Shia Turkmen villages were the victims of a campaign of terror by ISIS since 2014.
- Zanj (Black Iraqis): A mix African peoples taken from the eastern side of the continent as slaves from as early as the 600s. Most are presently found in the southern port city of Basra and they are estimated to number around 1.5 million in Iraq.
PROVINCES AND CITIES
- Anbar Province: Located in western Iraq and is the largest province in the country by territory. Its capital is Ramadi, 100 kilometers west of Baghdad. Anbar is one of the most sparsely populated regions in Iraq. In 2003, NCCI estimated that the population of Anbar was 1,230,1401. As of 2011, the population was around 1,561,000 people, and as of March 2017, hosts 236,076 IDPs. The majority of the population is Sunni Arab, most belonging to the Dulaim tribe. In early 2014, ISIS launched a successful campaign to seize control of the province from the Iraqi government. Since then, numerous offensive actions have been undertaken by the Iraqi government to clear ISIS militants from Anbar, most notably the successful ISF military campaigns in Ramadi, cleared in February 2016, and Fallujah, cleared in June 2016. Mohamed al-Halbusi has served as Governor of Anbar since January 1, 2018, after former governor, Suhaib Rawi, was ousted over allegations of corruption.
- Fallujah: Located 62 kilometers west of Baghdad in Anbar Province. The city was the heart of Sunni resistance to American presence in Iraq post-2003 and the base for Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) until 2007, when the city came under control of ISF. AQI-affiliated members of ISIS subsequently took over Fallujah in late 2013, and were cleared by ISF in June 2016. The Mayor of Fallujah is Isa Saer al-Assawi.
- Garma: Located 40 kilometers northwest of Baghdad in Anbar Province. Garma was the site of intense fighting between U.S. forces and Sunni insurgents between 2005 and 2007. In 2014, Garma came under ISIS control. In May 2016, Garma was declared cleared of ISIS militants by Shia militias of the PMF. The Mayor of Garma is Ahmed al-Halbosi.
- Hit: Located 50 kilometers northwest of Ramadi in Anbar Province. Hit came under ISIS control in October 2014 until the city was cleared of ISIS militants by the Iraqi Army, backed by U.S. airstrikes, in April 2016. The Mayor of Hit is Mohannad Zabar.
- Ramadi: Capital of Anbar Province and is located 100 kilometers west of Baghdad. Ramadi was another hub of resistance to U.S. forces after the invasion in 2003. Ramadi came under ISIS control in May 2015 until the city was cleared of ISIS militants in December 15 by ISF. The Mayor of Ramadi is Ibrahim al-Osaj.
- Babil Province: Located in central Iraq, south of Baghdad. The population is estimated to be around 1,728,132, the majority of which is Shia Arab. The capital, Hilla, however, has a sizable Sunni population. ISIS has not controlled territory in Babil since October 2014 and the majority of violence in the province is sectarian or tribal in nature. Sadiq Jassim has served as Governor of Babil since April 2013.
- Baghdad Province: Located in central Iraq and is the largest province in the country by population: there are 6,696,596 residents of Baghdad Province according to the most recent estimate in 2015. As of March 2017, the capital also hosts over 362,000 IDPs. Baghdad, though historically predominantly Sunni, has undergone major demographic changes in recent years and currently has many Shia, Sunni, Christian and mixed neighborhoods, and is the world’s second largest Shia city after Tehran. Baghdad is frequently subjected to insurgency attacks, sectarian conflict, and violent crime. On December 31, 2017, the Baghdad Provincial Council appointed Atwan al-Atwani as Governor of the Province.
- Baghdad: Capital of the province and the largest city in Iraq. It is also the second largest city in the Arab world in terms of population. Zekra Alwach is the mayor since 2015, and is the first female mayor of Baghdad in the city’s history.
- Kadhimiya: Northern neighborhood in Baghdad and is home to al-Kadhimiya mosque, which contains the shrine of Imam al-Kadhim, one of the twelve Shia imams revered by Twelver Shia Muslims. As such it is considered one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam.
- Basra Province: Located in southeast Iraq, Basra borders Iran to the east and Kuwait to the south. The capital of the province is Basra City. Basra contains a significant proportion of Iraq’s oil reserves, including the Rumaila oilfield, the largest in Iraq. Umm Qasr port in the south of the province is the country’s only shipping hub. According to the most recent estimate in 2015, the population of Basra is 2,403,301, the majority of whom are Shia Arabs of the Adnanite and Qahtanite tribes. In addition to Shia Arabs and a minority community of Sunni Arabs, there are also smaller Chaldean and Assyrian Christian communities, Mandeans, and a community of Afro-Iraqi peoples known as the Zanj. Basra and much of Iraq’s southern Shia heartland were spared the ISIS violence which seized much of northern and western Iraq. But as Iraq struggles to combat the group, security forces have increasingly been deployed from the south, leaving a vacuum that has been filled by militias and gangs, causing an uptick in crime in the province. Basra has some of the largest oil fields in Iraq, and most of Iraq’s oil exports leave from al-Basrah Oil Terminal. Asaad al-Eidani was elected Governor of Basra Province on August 27, 2017.
- Dhi-Qar Province: Located in southeast Iraq, the capital is Nasiriyah, which lies on the banks of the Euphrates. According to the most recent estimate in 2015, the population of Dhi Qar is 1,742,852, and predominantly Shia Arab. A Sunni minority and smaller communities of Assyrian and Chaldean Christians and Mandeans also live in the province. The southern marshes have traditionally been home to many Marsh Arabs. Dhi Qar, like much of Iraq’s south, has been spared ISIS’s violence and destruction and is relatively safe. Yahya Nasseri has served as Governor of Dhi Qar since June 2013 and is a member of the Solidarity Bloc. Nasseri has recently fast-tracked the execution of convicted terrorists, including the execution of 36 ISIS militants convicted of participating in the Speicher Massacre, drawing some criticism from human rights groups.
- Diwaniya Province: Located in south central Iraq, Diwaniya City is the name of both capital city and province. The population is estimated to be around 1,076,658, the majority of which is Shia Arab. The province is the historical site of the Battle of Qadisiyah, which was fought in 636 AD between the Arab Muslim army and the Sassanid Persian army during the first period of Muslim expansion. The result was Islamic conquest of Iran, and the battle has become a symbol for Arab-Islamic victory. Saddam Hussein renamed Diwaniyah Province “Qadisiyah” in 1976, but the name reverted in 2008. After the overthrow of the Saddam’s regime in 2003, Diwaniya became a stronghold of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia as well as militias connected to other Shia factions, like the Islamic Supreme Council for Iraq (ISCI). Diwaniya was not subjected to the wave of ISIS occupation experienced elsewhere in Iraq since 2014 and is relatively peaceful. The governor of Diwaniya is Sami al-Hasnawi.
- Diyala Province: Located in east Iraq, bordering Iran, and its capital is Baquba, 54 kilometers northeast of Baghdad. According to the most recent estimate in 2016, the population of of Diyala is 1,133,627. Historically a majority-Sunni Arab province, displacement and ethnic cleansing have resulted in demographic changes in the ethnically and religiously diverse population. Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen all live in the Province. Religious communities in Diyala include Sunni and Shia Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, and Kakei. The Kurdish population includes a community of Feyli Kurds. Large areas in Diyala were controlled by ISIS up until 2015, when the province was retaken by ISF and PMF in January and declared “liberated”. However, pockets of ISIS militants remain in the province, and rural Diyala is a “safe haven” for terrorists. ISIS also left numerous IEDs and other unexploded ordnance in the province, which continue to threaten civilians. Furthermore, ISIS’s exploitation of the divide between Sunni and Shia in the province has led to sectarian conflict and the persecution of Sunni civilians by some Iran-backed Shia PMF factions. There are also unresolved territorial disputes between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the central government on the administrative status of the districts of Baladrooz, Khanaqin and Mandali. Muthana Temimi has served as Governor of Diyala since May 2015, and is a member of the Badr Political Bloc. Ali Zaid al-Daini is the President of the Diyala Provincial Council.
- Baquba: Capital of Diyala and is situated on the banks of the Diyala River. Baquba emerged as the scene of some of the heaviest insurgent fighting after the American invasion in 2003, along with Fallujah and Ramadi. Baquba came under ISIS control in late December 2013 and was cleared of ISIS militants in September 2014, but ISIS has claimed responsibility for many attacks on the city since then, including a VBIED attack on September 5, 2016 which killed 12 and wounded 40.
- Duhok Province: Located in north Iraq and borders Syria to the west and Turkey to the north. The capital is Duhok City. The population of Duhok is estimated to be 985,946. Duhok is part of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), a region which has long sought more autonomy from Iraq’s central government. Kurds are the dominant ethnic group, with small minorities of Turkmen and Arabs living in the province as well. The majority of Duhok’s residents are Sunni, but there is also Kurdish Yazidi minority and several Assyrian, Chaldean, and Armenian Christian communities. Duhok largely escaped the widespread sectarian violence experienced in other parts of Iraq following the 2003 invasion, as well as the ISIS violence and conquest in much of the country’s northwestern and central region. However, Duhok did see an influx of IDPs due to ISIS violence in neighboring provinces, and currently hosts 395,580 of Iraq’s displaced peoples. Crime, civil unrest, and cross border smuggling pose a limited but persistent security threat. The alleged presence of fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the province is also a cause of tension with neighboring Turkey, who consider the group to be a terrorist organization. Turkish Air Force planes have carried out airstrikes on PKK locations without gaining approval from Baghdad. Farhad Atrushi has served as Governor of Duhok since July 2014 and is a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). He formerly served as a member of Parliament for the Kurdistan Alliance.
- Erbil Province: Located in northeast Iraq and shares a border with Turkey and Iran. The capital, Erbil City, is also the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). The province is predominantly Kurdish, but is also a home to Assyrian, Arab, and Turkmen minorities. The majority of Erbil’s inhabitants are Sunni Muslims, but a number of Chaldean, Assyrian, and Armenian Christian, Yazidi, and Kakei communities also live in the province. The total population is estimated to be around 1,530,722. Relative to the rest of Iraq, the security situation in Erbil is fairly stable, although ISIS violence in neighboring Ninewa province has driven significant numbers of displaced Iraqis to IDP camps in Erbil. Erbil currently hosts 353,808 IDPs. Firsat Sofi has served as Governor of Erbil since September 2019 and is a member of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan. Sofi holds a PhD in public law and is a former member of the KRG Parliament.
- Erbil City: Capital of the KRI and the headquarters of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP). The city is also home to the Erbil Citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Halabja Province: Located in northeast Iraq between Duhok province and Sulaymaniyah province, and shares a border with Iran. The capital is Halabja City, the site of the Halabja chemical attack orchestrated by Saddam Hussein’s military in 1988, the deadliest ever chemical weapons attack on civilians. The province was established in 2014, splitting off from Sulaymaniyah and becoming the fourth province in Iraqi Kurdistan. Halabja was established as a separate province by the Kurdistan Regional Government, but has not yet been formally recognized by the Iraqi Parliament. The population is estimated to be around 337,000 and Sunni Kurds make up the majority. The province is relatively safe. Ali Osman has served as Governor of Halabja since August 2016 and is a member of the PUK.
- Karbala Province: Located in central Iraq, southwest of Baghdad, its capital is Karbala City. The population is estimated to be around 1,012,356, the majority of which is Shia Arab. There is also a small Sunni Arab community within the province. Karbala was one of the centers of the Shia uprising that swept southern Iraq in 1991. Karbala was never occupied by ISIS, although attacks orchestrated by the organization have claimed many lives in the province. Akeel Turaihi has served as Governor of Karbala since June 2013. Turaihi previously served as General Inspector for the Ministry of the Interior.
- Karbala City: Best known as the site of the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD, and is home to the shrine of Imam Hussein, one of the holiest sites for Shia Muslims worldwide. Every year millions of pilgrims from Iraq and abroad visit the site during the holy month of Muharram to commemorate Ashura. The site has been the target of many sectarian attacks by Sunni insurgents.
- Kirkuk Province: Located in northeast Iraq, its capital is Kirkuk City. Kirkuk is the center of the northern Iraqi petroleum industry and thus of great strategic and economic importance. Kirkuk’s administrative status is disputed by the Iraqi Government and the KRG. Kirkuk has an estimated population of 902,019, which is predominantly Sunni Arabs and Kurds. The legacy of ethnic cleansing of Kurds by Saddam Hussein’s regime and the “Arabization” of the province has resulted in residual ethno-sectarian conflict, and poor governance due to animosities between the Erbil-based Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Sulaymaniyah-based Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has left the province in weak economic condition and political stagnation. In addition, ISIS violence in neighboring provinces has displaced over 385,000 IDP individuals to Kirkuk, exacerbating these problems. Najmaddin Karim has served as Governor of Kirkuk since April 2011 and is a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Karim served in the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga from 1972 to 1975, when he moved to America and gained US citizenship. He returned to Iraq in 2009 and was subsequently elected as a Member of Parliament for Kirkuk.
- Maysan Province: Located in southeast Iraq and borders Iran to the east. Maysan has an estimated population of around 824,147, the majority of which is Shia Arab. The province also hosts a Sunni minority and small communities of Christians and Mandeans, who live in the provincial capital, Amarah. The marshlands of Maysan, which comprise around 40% of the province, are home to the Ma’dan, or Marsh Arabs. Maysan is one of the poorest provinces in the country. Post-2003, Maysan became a battleground of competing Shia factions, including Moqtada al-Sadr’s Sadrist Movement and its Mahdi Army militia. Iranian weapons and other support for the militias flowed across the border. Tribal identity and affiliation played an important role in this inter-Shia fighting, which often turned into armed confrontations. Maysan, like much of southern Iraq, escaped the sweeping ISIS occupation experienced in the north since 2014. Ali Dawai Lazem has served as Governor of Maysan since 2010 and is a member of the Sadrist Movement.
- Muthanna Province: Located in south Iraq and borders Saudi Arabia, and its capital city is Samawah in the north of the province. The estimated population is 682,520, the majority of which is Shia Arabs. The population is concentrated around the Euphrates River in the north, while desert districts in the south are sparsely populated. Similar to other provinces in Iraq’s Shia south, Muthanna became a hotbed for a number of Shia groups and militias after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. These groups included Moqtada al-Sadr’s Sadrist Movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). Despite some intra-Shia competition for primacy in the province, during the past few years peace returned to the province, making Muthanna one of the safest provinces of Iraq. Muthanna was also spared from the onslaught of ISIS. Faleh Ziadi has served as Governor of Muthanna since October 2015. Ziadi formerly served as a member of Parliament and is a member of Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition.
- Najaf Province: Located in southwest Iraq and borders Saudi Arabia to the south. The estimated population is around 1,220,145, the majority of which is Shia Arab. The capital is Najaf City, , and the other major city in the province is Kufah. Both of these cities are considered holy cities of great importance to Shia Muslims. Holy sites in these cities, as well as the Wadi al-Salam (Valley of Peace) draw pilgrims and religious tourists to the Province, making the tourism sector one of the most important components of Najaf’s economy. Shia clergy in the city posed a challenge for the central authority in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein’s regime, and Najaf became one of the centers of the Shia uprisings that swept through southern Iraq in 1991, which resulted in forceful repression by the government. After 2004, Najaf became a stronghold of the prominent Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army, a Shia militia. In the summer of 2004 tensions between the government, the occupation force and the Mahdi army erupted into open combat. The conflict ended when Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani brokered a ceasefire. In recent years the province has been relatively peaceful; Najaf was spared the violent occupation by ISIS which swept over large parts of northwestern Iraq in 2014. Luay Yassiri has served as Governor of Najaf since September 2015. Yassiri previously served as Vice President of the Najaf Provincial Council and is a member of Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition.
- Najaf City: Location of the Imam Ali Mosque, which houses the shrine of Ali Ibn Abi Talib, whom Shias regard as the first Imam (Sunnis consider him as the fourth and last rightly guided caliph). As such it is one of the holiest sites in Islam.
- Kufah: Home to the Great Mosque of Kufah, one of the earliest mosques in Islam, and is a sacred city in Shia Islam, drawing many tourists during Shia holidays.
- Ninewa Province: Located in northwest Iraq, Ninewa shares a border with Syria to the west. Ninewa is the second most populous province in Iraq, with an estimated population of 3,600,000 individuals, excluding Syrian refugees and IDPs. The city of Mosul in Ninewa Province is the third most populous in Iraq, after Baghdad and Basra. Throughout history a diverse mix of ethnicities and religions has lived in Ninewa. In addition to the sizable Sunni Arab population, Shia Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Turkmen, Yezidis, Shabak, and other minorities live in the province. Over the past few decades, policies of Arabization and Kurdicization, as well as the targeting of certain minorities, have aggravated ethno-religious tensions and resulted in conflict as well as massive migrations to, from, and within Ninewa. Sectarian conflicts have been exacerbated by disputes between the KRG and the Iraqi Government over the governance of six of Ninewa’s districts; Sinjar, Tal Afar, Tilkaif, Shikhan, Akre, and Hamdaniya. In 2007, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) experienced significant defeats and were pushed into northern Iraq, especially to Ninewa Province. Mosul became the only remaining stronghold of AQI. After ISF and coalition forces largely defeated AQI in Ninewa in Operation Lion’s Roar in 2008, many AQI militants were absorbed into the Province and would later return to power through ISIS. The political and security vacuum created with AQI’s fall was later exploited by ISIS, who took control of Mosul and other areas in Ninewa in 2014. An ISF-led campaign to retake Mosul was launched in October of 2016, and succeeded in clearing the city of ISIS militants by July of 2017, though IEDs and ISIS sleeper cells remain a security threat. The battle, particularly in western Mosul, was brutal; the fighting decimated the city’s infrastructure, leveled most of the historic Old City, and left over a million of residents displaced in IDP camps. PMF, along with the ISF, are working to clear the rest of Ninewa Province of ISIS, and have cut off the main roads used by militants to escape to Syria. Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Najim Abdullah al-Jabbouri has served as Governor of Ninewa since November 2019. The President of the Ninewa Provincial Council is Seido Jetto, who leads the Kurdish parties’ bloc in the province.
- Hamdaniya (Karakosh): A historically Christian town southeast of Mosul that came under ISIS control in 2014 and was cleared of ISIS militants by ISF on October 22, 2016.
- Mosul: One of Iraq’s largest cities, which ISIS controlled from June 2014 until July 2017, when Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived in Mosul to declare it’s liberation by ISF and coalition forces. The nine-month campaign destroyed much of the city’s infrastructure and displaced over a million residents, leaving major long-term security and humanitarian challenges.
- Sinjar: A predominantly Yazidi town before it came under ISIS control in August 2014. That same month, ISIS carried out the “Sinjar Massacre” in which 5,000 Yazidi men were killed and hundreds of Yazidi women were captured. The town was liberated from ISIS in 2015 by Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
- Tal Afar: The city came under ISIS control in June 2014. Prior to ISIS rule, the city was home to 200,000 people, mostly Sunni Turkmen with a significant Shia minority. A demographic change occurred after Shia and Turkmen families fled persecution and violence, leaving behind mostly Sunni Arabs. By the time of writing in July 2017, Tal Afar was still under ISIS control, but Iraqi government-aligned forces had cleared the surrounding villages and were making preparations to enter the city.
- Tilkhaif: A historically Assyrian town northeast of Mosul, but Assyrian residents fled when the town came under ISIS control in August 2014. It was cleared of ISIS militants in January of 2017, though many homes and churches were looted and vandalized by ISIS during their control of the city. The Mayor of Tilkhaif is Bassam Yaqub.
- Salah ad-Din Province: Located in northeast Iraq, directly north of Baghdad. The population is estimated to be around 1,191,403. The majority of inhabitants are Sunni Arabs, with a significant minority of Sunni Kurds and Turkmen. The Tuz district is one of the areas disputed by the KRG and the central government in Baghdad. The province was a stronghold of the Sunni Arab resistance to U.S. occupation from 2003 to 2007. Salah ad-Din also witnessed the Sunni Protest Movement against former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which began in Anbar Province in 2012. ISIS occupied several districts and towns in Salah ad-Din – including Baiji, Tikrit, and Sharqat – beginning in 2014, but much of the province has been cleared of ISIS militants by ISF and coalition forces. However, ISIS sleeper cells and IEDs left behind by fleeing militants continue to pose a threat to security in the Province. Currently, Salah ad-Din hosts 332,604 Iraqi IDPs. Ahmed al-Jabouri is the Governor of Salah ad-Din. He was first elected to the position in April 2013 and served until April 2014, when he resigned in order to take up a seat in Parliament, where he served as Minister of State for Provincial Affairs under Abadi. After the position was abolished in 2015 in response to protests over government corruption, he resumed his post as Governor of Salah ad-Din.
- Tikrit: Capital of Salah ad-Din. It is also the birthplace of Saddam Hussein and grew prosperous under his patronage. Tikritis dominated the upper echelons of the Baath party and the officer corps of the Iraqi Army, and loyalty to the Baath party remained high post-2003. In 2014, Tikrit was the site of the Camp Speicher massacre, in which ISIS militants killed 1,566 Shia Iraqi Air Force cadets. Iraqi Government officials alleged that members of the outlawed Baath party were involved in the attack. ISIS militants controlled Tikrit from 2014 to April 2015, when it was cleared by ISF and coalition forces.
- Baiji: Home to the largest oil refinery in Iraq and a major power plant. The city came under ISIS control in June 2014 and was cleared of ISIS militants in October 2015, though fleeing militants destroyed much of the city and caused billions of dollars of damage to the refinery alone. The Mayor of Baiji is Mohammed al-Jabouri.
- Sharqat: Fell under ISIS control in June 2014, and more than 160,000 IDPs have been displaced from Sharqat since then. Sharqat was cleared of ISIS militants by ISF on September 22, 2016 and returns to the city commenced soon afterwards despite security risks. The Mayor of Sharqat is Ali al-Dudih
- Sulaymaniyah Province: Located in northeast Iraq in the KRI, Sulaymaniyah shares a border with Iran to the east. The capital is Sulaymaniyah City. The province is under the administration of the KRG. The population is estimated to be around 1,783,270. The majority of inhabitants are Sunni Kurds, though the province is also home to Shia Kurdish and Chaldean Christian communities. Sulaymaniyah escaped much of the sectarian violence that swept Iraq after 2003, however the influx of some 163,000 IDPs has strained the local economy, services and infrastructure in the province. The presence of some cells of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the province has led to some tension with Turkey, which considers the organization a terrorist group. Sardar Qadir, a member of the Gorran party, was the acting governor of the province until he resigned in February 2017 over disputes related to the province’s budget shortfall.
- Sulaymaniyah City: Capital of Sulaymaniyah Province and also the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
- Wasit Province: Located in east Iraq, borders Iran to the east. The population is estimated to be around 1,149,059, the majority of which are Shia Arabs. The province also hosts communities of Feyli Kurds in the district of Badra and east of the Province’s capital of Kut. Wassit was not subjected to the wave of ISIS occupation experienced elsewhere in Iraq and is relatively peaceful, though the province has experienced bombings by Sunni insurgents targeting Shia civilians recently. Khalaf al-Diraee has served as Governor of Wasit since June 2013 and is member of the Citizens’ Bloc of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.