Iraq's first parliamentary elections since the defeat of ISIS were supposed to herald a return of stability to the country after 15 years of practically incessant war since the US invasion of 2003. But turn-out in the May 12 poll was at a mere 44%—a record low since 2003. And candidates were openly aligned with foreign powers playing for influence in Iraq. Incumbent Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi's Nasr (Victory) coalition, backed by the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, appears to be squeaking past more populist tickets seen to be in the sway of Iran. These include the State of Law coalition of current vice president and former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who darkly warned that the results could be "rigged through electronic devices" as the returns started to come in. The ruling Dawa Party split into rival coalitions as Abadi and Maliki fell out, and a special law was passed in parliament allowing one party to run in competing lists. A third list, Fatah—headed by Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Brigades paramilitary militia—is considered solidly pro-Tehran. But the surprise so far is the strong showing of the Sairoon (Marchers) bloc, led by Shi'iite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in an unlikely alliance with the Iraqi Communist Party. Independent of outside powers, Sadr played to resentment against the cronyism and corruption endemic to both factions of Dawa.
Turkish air-strikes killed four civilians camping in a rural area of northern Iraq's Qandil Mountains as part of a gathering celebrating the traditional Kurdish spring festival, Nowruz. The March 22 air raid on the Choman district of Iraq's Kurdistan Region was ostensibly aimed at positions of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). But local residents told Kurdistan 24 the young men killed in the strikes, at a site known as Dali Baliani, were all civilians.
Waheed Mandoo Hammo, prime minister of Ezidikhan, the self-declared autonomous homeland of the Yazidi people in northern Iraq, issued a statement expressing his nation's appreciation and gratitude in a letter to Armenia's Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan after the Armenian National Assembly approved a resolution recognizing the Yazidi Genocide of 2014. Armenia is the first UN member state to formally recognize as genocide the mass killings and enslavement of Yazidis by "Islamic State" forces after their seizure of the Sinjar area in August 2014. Invoking the the 1948 Genocide Convention, the Armenian resolution condemned the "genocidal acts by terrorist groups against the Yazidi people committed in territories of Iraq under their control," and called for the "international community to take measures to ensure the safety and protection of the Yazidi people, provide them humanitarian aid," and "make all possible efforts to prevent" new attacks.
Thousands took to the streets across Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region Dec. 18 to protest budget cuts and the lack of basic services, in what is looking like a popular uprising as street clashes now enter their second day. At least six were killed Dec. 19 in Raniya, Sulaymaniyah province, as security forces fired on protesting civil servants, who have gone without pay for weeks. Demonstrators are demanding the resignation of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) administration. A group of protesters armed with assault rifles attacked the local office of the KRG's ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Raniya, where a curfew has now been imposed. KRG authorities have also taken measures against the press, ordering closed independent Nalia Radio & Television (NRT), and arresting its owner Shaswar Abdulwahid, for allegedly inciting the protests. The KRG has been under a severe financial crunch since Baghdad cut off funding to the region over its unilateral referendum on independence in September. (BasNews, BasNews, BasNews, BasNews, Arab News, CNN)
Iraqi government forces, including elite troops of the US-trained Counter Terrorism Service and irregulars of the Shi'ite militia Hashd al-Shaabi, began an attack on Peshmerga-controlled areas south and west of Kirkuk at midnight Oct. 15, and took the disputed city the following day. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered Iraqi forces take down the Kurdistan flag in the city, and hoist only the Iraqi national flag. Iraqi forces have also taken control of the K-1 military base and Baba Gurgur oilfield outside the city, as well as the airport, and key infrastructure and roads. Thousands of Kurdish civilians have fled the city, heading toward Erbil and Sulaimani, within the official borders of the Kurdistan Region. Peshmerga forces are apparently abandoning their positions to avoid conflict, and no casualties are reported. US officials said they were "engaged with all parties in Iraq to de-escalate tension," while President Trump said the White House is "not taking sides." (Rudaw, BBC News)
Leaders of Ezidikhan, the newly declared Yazidi autonomous zone in northern Iraq, are protesting that a UN Security Council resolution calling for an investigation into possible genocide by ISIS is to limited in scope. Resolution 2379, unanimously passed Sept. 21, authorizes establishment of an investigation team to support Iraq’s efforts to hold ISIS accountable for "acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide." Ezidikhan Minister for Human Rights Rania Qaso Mesho applauded the resolution as a milestone on the path to justice, but also emphasized its shortcomings, saying: "The UN Security Council resolution does not go far enough. The resolution must also consider abuses by anti-ISIS forces that were complicit in attacks on Yezidi people."
As results come in from the Kurdistan Regional Government's referendum on independence from Iraq, the Baghdad government is rejecting the vote as illegitimate, refusing all talks on the matter and threatening punitive action. "We are not ready to discuss or have a dialogue about the results of the referendum because it is unconstitutional," said Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in a speech broadcast on state TV. Raising the stakes, Abadi has given the KRG until the end of the week to surrender control of its two international airports or face a shutdown of international flights.
Thousands rallied in Erbil, capital of Iraq's Kurdistan Region, on Sept. 13 in support of the upcoming historic referendum on independence. But one day earlier, Iraq's parliament passed a resolution rejecting the referendum, and demanding that Kurdish authorities "cancel" it. Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani retorted in kind: "I say clearly to the Iraqi parliament to reconsider your decision because the will of the people of Kurdistan will not be broken by you." A particular sticking point is the inclusion of Kirkuk in the vote scheduled for Sept. 25—not within the Kurdistan Regional Government's formal borders, but under its de facto control since Kurdish forces occupied the city with the collapse of the Iraqi army during the ISIS offensive of June 2014. The Iraqi parliament resolution made special note that the referendum is proceeding within "disputed territories, including Kirkuk."