Iraq Country Report
Iraq (population 39.2 million) continues to experience extreme violence in parts of the country, including attacks in major urban centers, as well as strong political, religious, and sectarian tensions. The campaign against the remnants of Islamic State (IS) will continue for the foreseeable future. There are distinct regional variations in the security environment, with the south and the Kurdistan Region in the north generally enjoying more favorable security dynamics than the majority Sunni areas in the west and north.
In general, the consistently high frequency of attacks, assassinations, kidnappings, and sectarian violence presents a high threat environment for foreigners throughout Iraq.
ISLAMIC STATE INSURGENCY
The country has been seriously destabilized by IS, which declared an Islamic caliphate and seized the cities of Fallujah, Ramadi, and Mosul, as well as large swaths of Sunni-dominated territory throughout northern and western Iraq in 2014. The advance of IS was eventually halted by the Iraqi military and other anti-IS forces within Iraq, supported by international airstrikes. Though the group made significant advances towards Baghdad it was unable to breach the Iraqi Security Forces' (ISF) defense of the capital.
IS's rapid movement in northern Iraq prompted the formation of an international coalition to conduct airstrikes against IS positions in the northern and western regions of the country. ISF regained control of Tikrit and Ramadi in March and May in 2015, respectively; Fallujah was retaken in June 2016, and the major urban center of Mosul (Nineveh province) was declared retaken in July 2017. Following heavy military operations in Hawija (Kirkuk province) and northern Anbar, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the end of IS's control over Iraqi territory in early December 2017. Nevertheless, pockets of IS militants remain present throughout northern or western Iraq, particularly in the desert areas of Anbar and Nineveh, as well as along the Hamrin mountains in Kirkuk, Salah ad-Din, and Diyala provinces.
Al-Abadi's government continues to face a number of wide-ranging issues. Challenges include the ongoing fight against insurgents, inter-governmental rivalries, political reform, corruption allegations, and relations with Iraq's regional neighbors, Turkey and Iran. Tensions grew between the Kurdish government and Iraq's central government following Iraqi Kurdistan's unsanctioned independence referendum in September 2017. Iraq's government approved a series of sanctions on Iraqi Kurdistan: closing the borders with Iran and Turkey, canceling international flights to Kurdish airports, decreasing subsidies, etc., which worsened Kurdistan's already fragile economy. A protest movement against both the Iraqi government and the Kurdish government broke out in mid-December 2017; violent clashes between security officers and protesters resulted in at least three deaths.
Al-Abadi has been able to maintain international support from a variety of often competing governments and institutions and attracted much-needed funds from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. If he has made only minor gains in overhauling the government (in the widest sense) and reining in government spending, he has at least responded to the demands of ordinary Iraqis for better management of public services and a clampdown on corruption.
Political rivalry in the run-up to the parliamentary elections, slated for May 2018, is likely to be the dominant feature of reporting in the coming months.
Terrorist attacks tend to target security forces, public buildings, and high traffic areas in Shi'a majority neighborhoods, as well as Shi'a religious buildings such as mosques and shrines. Attacks occur regularly across the city and province of Baghdad. It is highly likely that following further losses of territory, IS militants will increasingly revert to insurgent warfare and increasingly perpetrate asymmetric attacks in permissive areas of the country, including the capital. There is an extant potential for large-scale vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) and suicide-vest attacks in Baghdad.
Due to the active insurgency, and the potential for retaliatory attacks against major urban areas, most Western governments advise their nationals against all travel to the country, with the possible exceptions of the provinces under the jurisdiction of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) - Erbil, Sulaymaniah, and Dohuk. In the Kurdish capital Erbil the threat of terrorism remains despite an apparently stable environment; however, Sunni militants' capacities to target the KRG is currently assessed as extremely limited. In addition to the terrorist threat in KRG territory, Turkey carries out regular airstrikes against Kurdish guerrilla fighters near the Turkish border in Dohuk and Erbil provinces and, as such, travel in these areas is not advisable.
The predominantly Shi'a southern provinces have remained largely secure. Most of the reported activity in the south is still related to criminal, personal, and tribal-related conflict, especially in Basra province. However, IS has demonstrated its continued intent to conduct occasional large-scale bombings and suicide attacks in the south. Attacks in 2017 have included two simultaneous VBIEDs in Basra province as well as attacks in Najaf, Babel, and Dhi Qar. The western peripheries of Karbala province are also vulnerable to such attacks due to access from Anbar.
Iraqi Airways, Iraq's national carrier, has been added to the list of airlines banned from flying in European Union (EU) airspace, commonly referred to as the EU blacklist. The ban, implemented due to subpar security and safety standards, went into effect in December 2015.
Due to the persistence of violence in the capital, it is highly advised to travel only by armored car under the protection of an escort. Besides kidnapping for financial gain, commonly reported across the country including in Baghdad, the country's crime rates are high, especially in Basra and its surroundings (e.g. burglaries, violent crime, drug and weapon smuggling, etc.). Authorities are facing increasing crime rates in the city and tribal clashes have become more commonplace, especially in rural areas north of Basra city. A significant proportion of Basra's ISF were redeployed to fight insurgents in the north, resulting in security gaps in the province. Increased tribalism and criminal activity have been exacerbated by a difficult economic environment due to low oil prices.
Iraqi authorities have repeatedly voiced concerns about the condition of the Mosul Dam, the country's largest hydroelectric facility, which has been critically damaged by the conflict in the north of the country. Despite extensive maintenance that began in February 2016, risks related to a breach of the dam do still exist, though it is assessed that ongoing work to repair the infrastructure will negate the threat of a major breach.
Several provinces have, in the past, been severely impacted by short periods of torrential rainfall that have led to landslides and flash floods in Baghdad and southern parts of the country. As infrastructure is ill-prepared for such events, material damages are often significant, including in the capital. Flooding also increases the risk of the spread of cholera.
Medical infrastructure currently remains far below Western standards and is unable to accommodate all those in need of treatment.
Malaria presents a limited risk to travelers in the country, particularly in the north.
Cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis occur in the country. This disease, which causes skin sores, is transmitted by infected sand flies.
Cholera outbreaks may occur at any time in the country. To reduce the risk of contracting cholera, wash hands regularly, drink only bottled or purified water, and avoid eating raw or undercooked foods.
Due to various risks, including the risk of contracting a parasitic infection, travelers are advised not to bathe in bodies of fresh water (e.g. lakes and rivers) and should not walk barefoot outdoors.
The Parliament Committee for Health and Environment has confirmed the presence of sources of radiation in the Kasra neighborhood of Baghdad, which threatens the health of the environment and of nearly 1000 local families.
Tuberculosis is common in the country.
Cases of rabies have been recently reported in the country. The main line of defense against rabies is to avoid contact with both domestic and wild mammals. If you are scratched or bitten, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Iraq is a predominantly Muslim country and it is advised to respect local laws and customs, especially during the month of Ramadan, taking place from mid-May to June in 2018.
A travel visa must be obtained prior to arrival in the country, and an in-country HIV test is required by authorities before a visa will be validated. In Kurdistan, authorities are more flexible than the rest of the country and a visa can be obtained upon arrival. Before departing, travelers must obtain an exit stamp at a residency office. Travelers with no visa or an expired visa will be required to pay for a visa as well as a fine.
Travelers are advised to register their stay in Iraq with local authorities and their relevant embassy.
Iraq's climate is principally arid. Summers last from May until September, during which time it is very hot and dry with temperatures reaching as high as 50°C. Winters last from December to February and are mild, sometimes rainy, with temperatures ranging from 5°C to 20°C. Conditions tend to be slightly hotter and more humid in the south of the country.
Useful NumbersCountry Code: +964
There are no emergency services in Iraq.
Voltage: 230 V ~ 50 Hz
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TIMEFRAME: from 2/9/2018, 12:00 AM until 2/9/2018, 11:59 PM (Asia/Baghdad).
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TIMEFRAME: from 1/19/2018, 12:00 AM until 1/26/2018, 11:59 PM (Asia/Baghdad).
COUNTRY/REGION: Iraq, Baghdad, Tahrir square, ...