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.

In August 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama authorized limited air strikes against Islamic State militants in northern Iraq. Since then, the United States has led a global coalition to counter the Islamic State, which includes more than sixty countries. Kurdish peshmerga forces have pushed back against Islamic State militants, securing an important victory in the northern Syrian town of Kobani. 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. 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 on August 11. Maliki’s Shia-dominated government had increasingly removed Sunni officials and arrested hundreds of extremists in response to bomb attacks targeting Shia neighborhoods. 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.

Background Information
Breaking News
Primary Sources
Latest CFR Analysis
Related CFR Experts