Patterns of Violence in Iraq

  • Oct 24, 2012

    Nearly one year after the withdrawal of US forces, Iraq continues to grapple with violence stemming from deep ethnic and sectarian tensions, growing political hostility, ineffective governance, and corruption among its security forces.  The instability caused by these conditions detracts from the US mission, increases Iran’s ability to influence events across the border, impedes progress in Iraq, and threatens to descend the country back into widespread civil strife.

    The Burke Chair has prepared an analysis of the current instability in Iraq which addresses internal and external factors for Iraqi violence, as well as the impact of US-Iranian competition on the country. The report draws on the most recent metrics and analysis available and constructs a comprehensive assessment of the causes and patterns of Iraqi violence. This analysis is entitled “The Current Patterns of Violence in Iraq", and is available on the CSIS web site at https://csis.org/files/publication/121024_Iraq_Violence.pdf.

    Iraq still has the opportunity to establish a new, unified national identity and improve internal security, or persistent tensions could deteriorate into civil strife, political crisis, and economic instability.  The reality, however, is that Iraqi violence remains high and seems to be increasing. The internal structural causes of violence remain a strong as ever: Iraq lacks unified and effective leadership, sectarian and ethnic divisions remain a critical problem. The security forces are not becoming more effective, are corrupt and divided, and increasingly are controlled by a narrow cadre in the Prime Minister’s office. 
    US-Iranian strategic competition over the future of Iraq is a further source of division and violence, and continues to undermine and challenge US interests throughout the region. New sources of instability like the upheavals in Syria are also adding to Iraq’s problems. The end result is that Iraq at “peace” remains nearly as violent as Afghanistan at “war.”

    The US cannot afford to ignore these trends.  The Iraq War almost seems to have vanished from America’s political consciousness, and Iraq’s problems receive little media and only limited analytic attention. If the US is to help Iraq achieve stability and security, and diminish Iran’s ability to influence it, the US must look for ways to strengthen Iraq’s hand and increase its autonomy.

    The US needs the strongest possible country team to try to resolve Iraq’s current political crisis by easing tensions between the central government and opposing groups, maximizing the potential of its oil and gas wealth, advancing security throughout the country, and providing assistance in infrastructure development. This means the US cannot afford to “forget” Iraq. Further, US policymakers cannot ignore Iraq’s critical role in world energy supplies and US strategic interests in the region, or fail to properly staff and fund the political, economic, and security efforts that still offer the best hope of reducing Iraq’s violence and securing its future.

    In the process, Iraq must also rebuild its conventional forces to the point where they can deter and defend against Iraq’s neighbors. It must find a way to balance its ties to the US and Iran, while rebuilding its links to the Arab world. It must do all this at a time of regional turmoil, while coping with both the civil conflict in Syria and the risk of a major conflict or confrontation between Iran and the US and GCC states.

    The report provides a wide range of analysis and metrics. Its contents include:

    INTRODUCTION    1
    IRAQ’S CONTINUING LEVELS OF INTERNAL VIOLENCE    2
    IRAQ’S CRISIS IN LEADERSHIP AND GOVERNANCE    49
    THE SOURCES OF POLITICAL COMPETITION AND OF VIOLENCE BY IRAQI KEY FACTION    64
    THE IRANIAN ROLE IN VIOLENCE IN IRAQ    80
    CONCLUSION    83

    Related reports on Iraq from the Burke Chair in Strategy include:

    Iraq After US Withdrawal: US Policy and the Iraqi Search for Security and Stability http://csis.org/publication/iraq-after-us-withdrawal-us-policy-and-iraqi-search-security-and-stability

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Anthony H. Cordesman