Iraq Country Report
Several commentators have likened Iraq's current situation to a 'perfect storm' of unprecedented proportions. At present, Iraq faces a multitude of issues, such as; continued political division, and widespread civil unrest and protest (albeit currently at reduced levels), US/Iranian tension and its overspill into Iraq and the sustained security risk present by the resurgence of the Islamic State (IS). All of which are encompassed by the current COVID-19 pandemic and the global decline in oil price, which sets a backdrop of economic crisis, magnifying Iraq's problems.
The anti-government protests which began back in early October 2019 over political nepotism and corruption gathered pace in late 2019 and ultimately forced the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi in late November. The outcome forced Iraq into political stagnation as Abdul Mahdi's caretaker government were powerless to affect change, and numerous PM candidates failed to achieve their quota, forcing them to step down. In May, Iraq finally gained a new Prime Minister under former National Intelligence Service (INIS) chief and prior journalist, Mustafa al- Kadhimi. On June 07, the new PM's cabinet was ratified with all ministerial positions filed, allowing the government to exit the political 'deadlock' it had experienced since November 2019 and move forward towards its goal of reform, early elections and the push to regain Iraq's sovereignty.
One of the many challenges for Kadhimi would be acting as a mediator, juggling a balancing act between Washington and Tehran. The first of many hurdles was the "Strategic Dialogue", referring to bilateral discussions between the GoI and the United States over their future presence within Iraq. On June 11, the first round was held virtually amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The talks concluded with a joint statement saying Washington would continue reducing its forces over the coming months, however, no timetable for the complete withdrawal of US troops from Iraq was set. Despite their significance, the talks were surrounded mainly with secrecy, with the Iraqi government opting not to disclose much information about the plan of its delegation. The joint statement only claimed that they had tackled a range of issues, including "security, counter-terrorism, economy, energy, political issues and cultural relations".
This result angered many Shia political blocs and Iranian alleged elements of the PMF. After the US killed senior Iranian IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi Shia militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a drone strike in Baghdad on January 03, 2020; the Iraqi parliament passed a non-binding resolution that asked the government to expel foreign forces from the country. However, due to the resignation of former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, the caretaker government at the time did not have the remit to make the motion binding. After the ratification of Kadhimi's cabinet, some Shia political blocs and pro-Iranian militia expected the newly formed cabinet to act swiftly and expel US forces from Iraq. When the conclusion of the strategic dialogue, was seen converse to this, an uptick in attacks against US facilities ensued.
The situation was further amplified on June 26, when Iraq's elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) conducted a raid on a Kata'ib Hezbollah (KH) headquarters within southern Baghdad. The raid resulted in the arrest and subsequent release of 13 KH members on terrorism charges and the recovery of rockets and launch platforms, making the group complicit with recent attacks on US facilities within the Baghdad area. Kata'ib Hezbollah is widely regarded as a pro-Iranian proxy organisation whose former leader, Abu Madhi al-Muhandis, was killed in the January 03 drone strike. They are also complicit in attacks on US facilities leading up to the drone strike and similar events, post-January 03, such as the IDF attacks on a US facility near Baghdad which killed three Coalition members and wounded 17 others. However, they are also a member of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) a paramilitary organisation of multiple militia elements organised into a coherent unit, born out of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's 'fatwa' in 2014 to defend the nation from the rise of the Islamic State (IS). Recent events spark a worrying narrative within Iraq, as hardline pro-Iranian proxies refuse to align with state agenda; pulling apart the Iraqi security infrastructure, as increased anti-Kadhimi sentiment from these groups ferments.
In parallel to this, the overarching situation within Iraq has allowed the Islamic State (IS) group, who were militarily defeated in 2017 to remerge. Since March 2020, IS have gained strength by effectively using the security vacuum within the northern provinces and the current situation within Iraq to reinvent itself, using adept asymmetrical tactics, similar to their predecessor AQI. Despite no longer being a ground holding force, IS are widely assessed as being at a similar strength to 2012, before their awakening in 2014. They have a new command and control structure, with efficient logistical networks, which allows them to effectively apply their guerrilla-style tactics against ISF elements within the northern provinces, engaging in a structured attrition campaign. If left unchecked, many analysts assess the group with continue to grow, another worrying narrative for the nation.
Despite these security issues, Iraq's economy is crippled due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the global crash in oil price. Approximately, 90% of Iraq's fiscal revenue comes from oil sales, with a minimal private sector and the lack of efficient saving for budgetary needs, Iraq is struggling as many public sector workers go without pay or under severe austerity measures. Combined with the strain that COVID-19 is placing on Iraq's substandard medical infrastructure, the country is in dire need of reform and diversification.
The short term looks challenging for Mustafa al-Kadhimi's new government as he combats several security issues, all compounded by the economic and health crisis the country is facing. However, with one thing in his favour, his initially strive for sovereignty and reform, to rectify past issues of corruption and nepotism, has gained him limited at present, but observable support from the protest movement. There is no doubt the new PM has a considerable challenge ahead of him. However, in his short term so far; it appears he is on a track to make a change and has external backers to support him as he moves forward with the many challenges Iraq faces.
Shia militias aligned to Iran in the Popular Mobilisation Units intend to expel US forces from Iraq; near-weekly rocket attacks are likely to focus on military bases and US diplomatic assets. There is an increased risk of attacks and kidnap targeting Western individuals. The Islamic State is consolidating its presence primarily in Diyala province using hideouts in connecting mountain ranges. Improvised explosive device attacks in these areas target security forces vehicles. The Islamic State may aim to exploit the confrontation between the US and Iran, with more complex attacks against security forces and energy assets in central and northern Iraq.
Conventional interstate war is highly unlikely. Following the US drone strike that killed IRGC Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani and the deputy-commander of the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs) in January 2020, a proxy conflict between the US and Iran on Iraqi soil is likely to intensify. Inconclusive escalation is the most likely outcome. Iran-aligned militias in the PMUs will likely continue to conduct near-weekly rocket and explosive attacks targeting US military and diplomatic assets in Iraq, and there is a risk of rogue attacks against Western civilian assets and personnel, notably against workers at US oil companies.
Vaccinations required to enter the country
Proof of vaccination against yellow fever is required if traveling from a country with risk of yellow fever (YFV) transmission and over one year of age and for travelers who have been in transit >12 hours in an airport located in a country with risk of YFV transmission. Certificate of yellow fever vaccination is valid for 10 years.
Hepatitis A: A vaccine is available for anyone over one year of age. The vaccine may not be effective for certain people, e.g. those born before 1945 and who lived as a child in a developing country and/or have a past history of jaundice (icterus). These people can instead get a shot of immune globulin (IG) to boost their immunity against the disease.
Hepatitis B: A vaccine is available for children at least two months old.
Diphtheria-Tetanus-Polio: A booster shot should be administered if necessary (once every ten years).
Typhoid Fever: If your travels take you to regions with poor sanitary conditions (for children two years old and up).
Rabies: For prolonged stays in an isolated region (for children from when they can walk).
Malaria: Recommended preventive medication - chloroquine (sometimes marketed as Nivaquine).
For Children: All standard childhood immunizations should be up-to-date. In the case of a long stay, the BCG vaccine is recommended for children over one month and the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine for children over nine months.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are no emergency services in Iraq.
Voltage: 230 V ~ 50 Hz