Civil War in Iraq

Civil War in Iraq

Intensification of the conflict in Iraq due to territorial gains by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) 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 Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), forces have launched a major offensive to regain ISIS-controlled areas, but the group continues to make gains.

U.S. President Barack Obama authorized limited air strikes against ISIS militants in northern Iraq in August 2014. The United States has also sent humanitarian assistance to Yazidi refugees fleeing ISIS-controlled areas, deployed nearly 1,400 U.S. troops for support and training and plans to send another 1,500, and also sent arms to Kurdish forces. The fight against ISIS has internally displaced more than 1.2 million Iraqis and killed more than five thousand in 2014 alone. ISIS has also targeted Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities, including the killing of at least five hundred Yazidis in August 2014.

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 60 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.

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