Posted on May 16, 2015 in Arab American Institute


The instability and violence that Iraq faced as a result of the 2003 U.S. war has been alarmingly exacerbated by the territorial gains and violence of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). ISIL’s military successes, coupled with the growing sectarian divisions within Iraqi society have eroded any progress in governance and civil society. The Arab American Institute continues to support U.S. policies that call for the unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Iraq and a stable government based on tolerance, transparency, and respect for democratic institutions. We also advocate for greater U.S. assistance to Iraqi refugees and vulnerable communities, and we promote the establishment of safe zones for these groups. We push for the fulfillment of U.S. assurances to our Iraqi allies, who served as translators, drivers, and aides for U.S. officials over the past 12 years – these Iraqis deserve to be protected, resettled, and assisted by the U.S. government

Download the AAI Issue Brief: Iraq


The social, political, and security situation in Iraq has reached peak instability since the initial devastating invasion in 2003, and the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011. What many now consider to be the U.S.’s premature withdrawal of troops from Iraq has led to an Iraqi government fractured by political corruption, sectarian power-play, and regional divide. Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki failed to establish the type of government Iraqis envisioned for the country after toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime. Trading democracy for pseudo-autocracy, numerous groups, particularly Sunnis, began to protest. Sectarian violence around Iraq began to intensify in December of 2012, and by July of 2013, the country was considered to be in a full-out sectarian war.

Sectarian tensions, coupled with the growing sense of illegitimacy around the Maliki government enabled the growth of a much greater threat to future stability in Iraq. Terrorist groups fighting in the Sunni-Anbar province began a slow offensive on Iraqi territories. The self-proclaimed “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL) is one such group. ISIL has seized numerous cities across Iraq and neighboring Syria, including the major Iraqi cities of Fallujah, Ramadi, Raqqa, and Mosul. In April of 2015, after a month-long military operation to liberate the city of Tikrit from ISIL militants, the Iraqi forces claim to have regained control of the city. Now, Iraqi forces are turning their attention to retaking Anbar province.

ISIL has carried out a continuing campaign of human rights atrocities – including mass killing, rapes, and kidnappings of men, women, and children. The significant territorial gains of ISIL, coupled with the sectarian divisions within Iraqi society culminated with the resignation of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on August 14, 2014. Iraq’s new Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi has been tasked with healing Iraq’s sectarian cleavages while ensuring that the state does not disintegrate at the hands of ISIL.

Recent events have forced the U.S. to reconsider its position on military engagement in Iraq, par- ticularly in light of ISIL’s quick advance on the region. On September 10, 2014, President Obama announced that the U.S. would begin an airstrike campaign in Syria and Iraq that would seek to “degrade and destroy” ISIL. The U.S. led coalition is reported to have launched more than 900 air strikes against ISIL militants in Iraq by January 2015. The coalition consists of 62 members, 14 of which are directly contributing to the military operations against ISIL in Iraq and Syria and 16 of the nations are helping train or provide assistance to Iraqi Security Forces. More recently, President Obama authorized the deployment of an additional 1,500 American troops to Iraq, raising the total number of troops to 3,000. According to military officials, these soldiers should not be counted as “boots on the ground” as their role is to train and advise Iraqi and Kurdish forces to effectively combat ISIL fighters.

In February of 2015, President Obama proposed an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIL to Congress, which is pending on Congressional approval. The legislation is currently stalled in the House, but there are indications that both chambers will revisit the use of force authorization to fight ISIL after the Iranian nuclear negotiations have wrapped up.

The Arab American Institute joins the growing calls for Congress to debate and vote on whether to authorize the use of force against ISIL in both Iraq and Syria. Under the Constitution, Congress holds the power to authorize war powers. AAI strongly believes in the ability of the country’s elected officials to debate and decide military action currently underway in both Syria and Iraq, and supports such debate and authorization as an important check on Executive authority.

The Problem

In a Zogby Research Services poll conducted in Iraq toward the end of 2011, Iraqis expressed clear concern for both continued U.S. troop presence and U.S. troop withdrawal. A majority of Shias supported U.S. withdrawal, while majorities of both Sunni Arab and Kurdish communities feared that withdrawal would create a power vacuum, leaving their communities at risk.

These concerns came to fruition in the present day situation: several of Iraq’s religious, tribal, and cultural communities are in danger. Living in the shadow of ISIL, Christians, Chaldeans, and Yazidis have forcibly fled their homes. The figures are staggering: UNHCR estimates that as a result of prolonged conflict, there are approximately 426,114 Iraqi refugees around the world and 1,903,943 Iraqis are internally displaced. UNHCR estimates that the population of concern in Iraq will be more than 3 million people by the end of 2015. Further, ISIL’s unprecedented territorial gains resulted in the death of roughly 4,325 Iraqi civilians. There were 1,748 civilian deaths attributed to the Iraqi air strikes, and 118 civilian casualties from the U.S. led coalition air strikes marking the first time since 2011 that Iraqi civilian deaths have been directly connected to U.S. coalition’s actions.

In light of these desperate conditions around Iraq, U.S. officials are hopeful that new Prime Minister Abadi will be able to create a more inclusive and representative government for all Iraqis. Abadi has already made notable progress by appointing a diverse cabinet of ministers to assist him, including Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish representatives. Iraq, however, remains particularly vulnerable to the rapid expansion and terror tactics of ISIL; this is especially true for the ethno-cultural- religious groups outside of the Shia majority areas.

Iraqis, the U.S., and others in the international community struggle to create the conditions necessary to lead diplomatic efforts for national reconciliation; to alleviate the humanitarian crisis facing vulnerable population subgroups; to assist refugees and internally displaced persons; and to aid Iraqi reconstruction and political development. The U.S. continues to balance the disastrous impact of its previous military involvement in Iraq with its interests to withdraw militarily from various conflict regions around the globe.

Moving Forward

  • Support policies that secure the unity, territorial integrity, and sovereignty of Iraq and promote a stable democratic system of governance based on tolerance, transparency, and respect for human rights.
  • Address the humanitarian crisis facing vulnerable communities, refugees, and internally displaced persons by creating safe zones and protected areas, providing aid and assistance, and attracting international support for Iraqi reconstruction efforts.
  • Increase resettlement efforts and policies for displaced Iraqis, refugees, and U.S.-allied Iraqis who have helped U.S. forces in various military operations and intelligence offerings throughout the U.S.’s engagement within Iraq.
  • Advocate for greater U.S. assistance to Iraqi refugees and vulnerable communities, and promote the establishment of safe zones for these groups.
  • Push for the fulfillment of U.S. assurances to our Iraqi allies, who served as translators, drivers, and aides for U.S. officials over the past 12 years – these Iraqis deserve to be protected, resettled, and assisted by the U.S. government.