The situation in Iraq still remains grave. Even after the defeat of the main ISIS terrorist groups, there is a substantial security threat, primarily related to potential terrorist acts. Moreover, a slow progress in settling controversial issues between the federal government in Baghdad and the Kurdish autonomy leadership also brings a risk of bloodshed.
In the domestic political environment, the struggle between key parties and groups is still ongoing; consequently, a number of ministerial posts remain vacant. This situation has an adverse impact on the efficiency of the executive power, its ability to make appropriate and timely decisions.
In the foreign policy environment, the main challenge for Baghdad is the US-Iran crisis, more precisely, its potential escalation into an open military confrontation. The Iraqi leadership has good reason to believe that in this case the country would turn into a military foothold.

Terrorist threat and security issues


In terms of the security situation in Iraq, we should mention that the active battle against the ISIS central forces ended with their defeat. However, the remaining militant groups still operate in the country, organizing terrorist attacks and sabotage.
According to the statement made on May 14 by the official representative of the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, there are currently about 10,000 militants of this quasi-state and their sympathizers in Iraq. The terrorists shifted to the tactics of clandestine cells, ambushes on patrols and terror attacks.
Terrorists are mostly located in the provinces of Kirkuk, Nineveh, Salah al-Din, Anbar, Diyala and some others. Their highest activity is observed in the mountainous and desert regions of these provinces, although there are sleeper cells, which periodically become active in other Iraqi regions.


Yet another headache for Baghdad is Turkey’s operations in the country’s north, where the Turkish army combats against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) troops without communicating with the Iraqi leadership. Thus, on May 27, the Ministry of National Defence of Turkey announced the launch of another large-scale military operation against the PKK under the code name ‘Operation Claw’ in the Hakurk region. According to the Turkish National Defence Ministry, the aim of the military offensive, is to “neutralize the terrorists and destroy their shelters”.
Ankara’s determination was clearly demonstrated by the fact that the domestically-produced tactical ballistic missile Bora 12 saw its combat debut. In this connection, analysts conclude that Turkey views the Northern Iraq territory as a testing ground for new weapons systems, while Baghdad is unable to somehow change this situation.
Following the increased military tensions and security threats, the U.S. Department of State advised the US citizens against traveling to Iraq. The US Exxon-Mobil Oil Corporation evacuated its international staff from the West Qurna field in Iraqi south Basra province.

Domestic political situation


The internal political situation in Iraq is equally complicated. The 2003 US invasion and the combat activity against ISIS, with the use of heavy armored vehicles, artillery, aircraft, etc. have left the country in ruins ‒ Iraq is now facing grave economic problems. Staggering unemployment, especially among the youth, regular power cuts, the rivalry between the major Iraqi political forces is a daily reality in which the Iraqi people have to live or rather exist.
Experts note that Iraqi internal political problems are related primarily with the confrontation between political parties and groups striving to augment their weight in the new government. So far, various political forces failed to agree on the candidates for interior, defence, justice and education ministers.


The main political players in the current government are the Saairun coalition (Alliance Towards Reforms) co-led by influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the Fatah Alliance led by Hadi al-Amiri, which represents the interests of the al-Hashd ash-Sha’abi Shia militia, as well as the Kurdish parties bloc represented by the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The Nasr bloc of former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the Reform and Reconstruction Alliance of Ayatollah Sayyid Ammar al-Hakim partly retained their former influence.
All these actors, except for the Kurds, mostly represent the interests of the Shiite Iraqi population, while the Sunnis were again excluded from the main political game.


The Iraqi National Accord (a coalition that united the main Shia political parties in the 2005 and 2010 elections) led by Ayad Allawi takes efforts to resignation of the incumbent Speaker of the Council of Representatives, Mohammed al-Halbousi (member of this political bloc), and replacing him by another politician.
Experts say that the INA explains its demarche by al-Halbousi’s purported lack of commitment to the coalition policies. Meanwhile Al-Halbousi announced on May 13 of his withdrawal from the INA to found his own bloc, the Iraqi Forces Alliance, which would take 32 MPs. Most likely, the new faction will head for rapprochement with Muqtada al-Sadr.
The Iraqi Interior Minister position is the key reason behind most current controversies. On June 13, MP Alaa al-Rubaie voiced criticism of Adel Abdul Mahdi, Iraqi Prime Minister. According to al-Rubaie, the incumbent PM already had a list of five MOI candidates but held it back from voting until each candidate is approved by heads of political factions.


Most probably, unless the PM puts forward the list of MOI nominees for approval by the parliamentarians, the MPs will initiate voting for three other ministries (defence, justice and education) and postpone MOI for later, under amendment into the procedure.
This deadlock with the ministerial election was also caused by the fact that in recent months, the country’s political life has been mainly focused on Iraqi Kurdistan, where Nechirvan Barzani was elected a new President on May 28 with 68 parliamentary votes out of 81. The KDP leader, Mr. Barzani had been serving as prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). He is a grandson of the Kurdish national hero Mustafa Barzani, a son of Idris Barzani, and a nephew of the former president of Iraqi Kurdistan and KDP leader Masoud Barzani
The vote was boycotted by the PUK for the reason that KDP refused support their candidate in the election of the Kirkuk governor, as was previously agreed. The New Generation Movement acceded to the boycott for disagreement with the expansion of presidential powers in this semi-autonomous region. The Gorran (Movement for Change) MPs supported Barzani’s candidacy.


The outcome of the election makes us conclude that the KDP-PUK consensus in Iraqi Kurdistan has collapsed, quite predictably, without reaching any tangible results. In this regard, analysts emphasize that the situation of uncoordinated legal space is quite beneficial for the Iraqi Kurdistan political forces, since it allows them to “comfortably” deal with the matters related to the distribution and redistribution of oil revenues.

Geopolitics

The main challenge in Iraq’s foreign policy vector is the Iran-US crisis. Notably that most of the Iraqi elites are struggling to prevent an armed conflict between Washington and Tehran, which Iraq may be dragged into. Baghdad makes active attempts to mediate in the crisis resolution along with Japan and other countries.
However, Iraqi leadership is not only seeking to secure protection from another war. Baghdad has close ties with Tehran. Firstly, Iraq is home to the most valued Shia shrines, such as Najaf and Karbala, which unite these two Shiite countries. Secondly, a number of politicians in the current leadership of Iraq used to live in Iran in immigration during Saddam Hussein’s rule, where they formed extensive connections with the Iranian establishment. Thirdly, many Iraqi politicians rightly believe that in 2014-2015 Tehran saved their country from the total takeover by ISIS.


Moreover, Baghdad depends on the Iranian electricity and gas supplies. Hence, the potential US strikes on Iranian facilities and sealing off the Strait of Hormuz will produce extremely negative consequences for Iraq, aggravating the already disastrous state of economy. On May 17, the National Iranian Gas Company’s Managing Director announced that the Iranian gas exports to Iraq will increase to 40 million cubic meters per day, primarily, to go to Baghdad and Basra.
In addition, the Iraqi leadership is rightly concerned that the US strikes against Iran will lead to a new round of terrorist activity that is now driven underground.
These Baghdad’s sentiments are riling up Washington, which intends to include Iraq in the anti-Iran coalition together with Israel, Saudi Arabia and other countries.


Speaking of foreign policy, it is also worth noting that Iraq is expanding cooperation with Kuwait, visited by Iraqi PM Adil Abdul Mahdi in late May. Baghdad has joined the Astana process on the Syrian settlement as an observer country. Also, Oman, after nearly 30 years, made a decision to reopen its embassy in the Iraqi capital.
In conclusion, we should note that, despite the above-mentioned range of problems Iraq is facing, a key factor in the near future will be the domestic policy and the formation of a balance of power. Therefore, whether the work of the country’s government is going to normalize depends on how the deadlock with the cabinet ministers will end – or the elites will split for good, which may exacerbate ethnic and religious crises. In addition, the escalation of the U.S.-Iran crisis and the imposition of new U.S. sanctions against Tehran can have a negative impact on Baghdad’s economy and energy independence.