Civil War in Iraq

Civil War in Iraq

Intensification of the conflict in Iraq due to territorial gains by the Islamic State and operations by Iraqi security forces, as well as ongoing Sunni-Shia sectarian violence

Sectarian violence in Iraq continues to worsen as clashes erupt between Sunni and Shia groups. The conflict escalated beginning in December 2013 in Iraq’s Anbar Province. Following attacks by the self-declared Islamic State, regional forces have launched a major offensive to regain Islamic State-controlled areas, but the group continues to hold large swaths of territory and launch terror attacks in surrounding areas.

Since August 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama has authorized the U.S. military to conduct targeted air strikes against Islamic State militants in northern Iraq and Syria. The United States has led a global coalition to counter the Islamic State, which includes more than sixty countries. In June 2015, the Obama administration announced plans to deploy 450 additional U.S. military personnel to “train, advise and assist” Iraqi Security Forces, raising the total number of U.S. trainers and advisers in Iraq to 3,550 troops. The Iraqi Army, with support from local tribes and the international coalition, announced its intention to retake Anbar Province following the liberation of Tikrit in April 2015. In May 2015, however, Islamic State militants captured the strategic city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province and largest city in western Iraq. Shiite militia forces backed by Iran play an increasingly large role in the conflict, raising concerns about growing Iranian influence in Iraq.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, dividing lines between religious groups have widened and certain groups have become empowered over others. The Shia—which constitute more than sixty percent of the total population—have been able to extend greater influence in Iraq’s political atmosphere.

To ease sectarian tension within the country, Iraq’s president nominated Haider al-Abadi to replace Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in August 2014. Maliki’s Shia-dominated government had increasingly removed Sunni officials and arrested hundreds of extremists in response to bomb attacks targeting Shia neighborhoods. Since coming to office, the Shia prime minister has assembled a more inclusive government, which includes the participation of Shia, Sunni, and Kurds in important roles. Nonetheless, if sectarian violence continues to take hold of the country, Iraq may plunge into a deeper state of chaos and potentially into a state of civil war. The United States seeks to establish a stable Iraq and prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for terrorist organizations.

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