Contemporary Conflict Analysis of Iraq

Published on 1 January 2015

This rapid review is based on eleven days of desk-based research and provides a short synthesis of the literature on conflict and peace in Iraq. It was prepared for the European Commission’s Instrument Contributing to Stability and Peace.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq left a legacy of violence and a political system which was increasingly used by political leaders for sectarian advantage. After a period of relative stability, violence has increased in Iraq during 2014, to levels last seen during the sectarian conflict in 2006/7. Since the beginning of 2014, an extreme jihadist group ISIL/Da’esh, who are also active in Syria, has gained control of territory in the mainly Sunni and contested areas of Iraq including Kirkuk, Diyala, Anbar, Salah al Din and Ninewa.

As of October 2014, the fighting has caused the internal displacement of 1.8 million people and there are 5.2 million who need urgent humanitarian assistance. The conflict has taken on an increasingly sectarian nature and minorities have been disproportionally affected.

Actors involved include: i) ISIL/Da’esh and various Sunni armed groups ranging from secular nationalist to Salafist jihadist, who work together and occasionally in opposition to each other; ii) Sunni tribes, some of whom support ISIL/Da’esh and some of whom opposed them; iii) the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF); iv) various Shia militia groups who have a close relationship with ISF; and v) the Kurdish Peshmerga (the Kurdish Regional Government’s (KRG) armed forces).

The roots of this violence include:

  • Sunni alienation as a result of the ‘sectarianisation’ of the political system. This has left many Sunni’s lacking trust in state institutions and a weakening sense of Iraqi identity.
  • Feelings of insecurity as a result of the increasing Shia make-up of Iraqi Security Forces and sectarian, unregulated and unaccountable militias. Sectarian attacks have helped to perpetuate the conflict.
  • Underlying structural tensions including lack of services, education and employment and discrimination against minorities.


Brigitte Rohwerder

Research Officer

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Rohwerder, B.


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