Iraq (2003 – first combat deaths)


The Conflict at a Glance

Who (are the main combatants): The government of Iraq, supported by the Iraqi forces and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), versus Shia and Sunni Muslim armed factions.

What (started the conflict): Various factions are fighting for control of the state. Fighting has frequently taken the form of bombings and suicide attacks, indiscriminately killing many civilians as well as combatants.

Where (has fighting occurred): Violence has swept the country. Large-scale U.S. operations were launched in Anbar province in 2005. Tensions exist between the autonomous Kurdistan region in the north and the central government. In 2014, Islamic State (IS) staged battles and captured territory in Anbar province, later moving east toward Baghdad and attacking the Kurdish region.

When (has the conflict taken place): The current conflict in Iraq began with the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Although the United States and the other coalition countries completed troop withdrawal in 2011, sectarian violence continued. The Islamic State began attacks in Iraq in 2013, and made major military advances beginning in January 2014.

Type of Conflict
Parties to the Conflict
Status of the Fighting
Number of Deaths
Political Developments
Arms Sources

Economic Factors


2017 Military operations against Islamic State (IS) intensified in 2017. U.S.-backed Iraqi forces and local militias were supported by the Global Coalition against IS. The campaign to regain Mosul, which started in late October 2016, continued in 2017. By late January, the eastern part of Mosul was liberated and the Iraqi government regained control of the entire city by July. Human Rights Watch reports that IS used civilians as shields and targeted fleeing civilians. In December, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared that the fight against IS was over, although the possibility of a guerilla war remained likely. Calls for an inquiry into the actions of Iraqi forces followed reports about Iraqi forces killing captured militants and civilians who had surrendered during the fighting in Mosul.

Following the September 25 vote on independence of Iraqi Kuridstan, the Iraqi government sent forces to retake the disputed city of Kirkuk; these forces took back territories that have been under de facto control of the administration of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

2016 Throughout the year, the Iraqi army (in conjunction with U.S. and Turkish allies) pushed to recapture Falluja and Mosul from the Islamic State (IS).  On June 26, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that they had full control of Falluja. By the end of the year, Iraqi forces had retaken al-Qirawan, al-Hadba, Wahda, and the Tal Afar airport in Baghdad, beginning a new push on three fronts into eastern districts. A U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi air force strike around Falluja on suspected IS fighters on June 28 and 29 reportedly killed at least 250 people. Two chemical attacks by IS on March 9 and 12 on Taza reportedly wounded at least 600. On July 3, a suicide bombing in Karrada district, central Baghdad killed more than 143 people in the deadliest attack in Baghdad since 2009. The year also saw many large and widespread protests by both citizens and members of the government over the Iraqi government’s failure to implement anti-corruption reforms (International Crisis Group). On April 30, protestors managed to break into the fortified Green Zone and parliament, demanding an end to government corruption (New York Times). Abadi said that he would reshuffle cabinet members to replace political appointees with technocrats, and proposed several cabinet list drafts that were debated heavily and caused much political tension. He continued to reshuffle the cabinet throughout the year (International Crisis Group).

2015 In the first half of the year Islamic State (IS) made territorial gains, including in Ramadi and the oil fields at Baiji. In March popular mobilization forces, supported by the Iraqi army, began to retake territory, first in Tikrit. In August these forces launched major operations against Fallujah and Ramadi. Although leading factions experienced infighting during the year, Kurdish forces retook Sinjar in November. Prime Minister Abadi’s government faced significant opposition over corruption and an inability to deliver essential services.

2014 Approximately 17,083 civilians were killed this year, nearly double the previous year’s total, according to the Iraq Body Count. The Islamic State (IS) gained considerable control in the north, perpetrating massacres and grave human rights violations. Parliamentary elections sparked a series of deadly bombings in Baghdad. Tens of thousands of minority Yazidis were trapped on Sinjar Mountain by IS advances in August, prompting United States-led coalition airstrikes against IS. Kurdish forces fought to reclaim the territory and broke the siege of Sinjar in December. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) reported approximately 5.2-million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Nouri al-Maliki’s State of the Law coalition won elections in April. In August, Maliki was succeeded as prime minister by Haider al-Abadi.

2013 Nearly 9,500 civilians were killed in Iraq’s bloodiest year since 2008, Iraq Body Count reported. Executions, suicide attacks, and car bombings caused thousands of deaths on all sides of the conflict. In spite of government repression, Sunnis continued to demand the abolition of anti-terrorism laws, release of dissidents and repeal of unfair rulings, an end to corruption and better provision of services. A government raid on a prison camp in April, which killed more than 50, led to the militarization of some protestors. Forty-four MPs resigned at the end of the year to protest the dismantling of a protest camp in Ramadi. The rebel group Islamic State of Iraq attacked Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons in July, releasing more than 500 prisoners. Responding to the increase in violent activity in 2013, the UN extended its mission in Iraq until mid-2014. The conflict in neighbouring Syria began to affect sectarian violence in Iraq; Iraqi government forces were deployed to the border in response.

2012 Iraq Body Count recorded 4,574 non-combatant deaths, including nearly 1,000 police. Most died in targeted shootings or bomb attacks. The al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq ramped up its jihadi campaign “Destroying the Walls.” Well coordinated bombings occurred across the country. Vice President al-Hashemi was sentenced to death in absentia by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq. There were more than one million displaced people, despite modest resettlement efforts.

2011 Popular protests that began in February led to the detainment of hundreds of people and violent clashes that killed dozens. Bombings and assassinations were commonplace. On August 15, 42 apparently coordinated attacks were launched throughout Iraq, two weeks after the Iraqi government agreed to formally negotiate with the United States on leaving some troops in Iraq after the end of the year. Soon after U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq in December, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accused Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi of running a death squad and then threatened to discard Iraq’s fragile power-sharing government. On December 22, a series of deadly bombings rocked Baghdad.

2010 Bombings and suicide attacks caused an estimated 4,571 deaths. Major violence occurred during March elections and a Shia pilgrimage in July. By January 1, multinational forces had moved all ground operations to U.S. forces headquarters, to facilitate  the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Elections were held on March 7, but the results were met with allegations of fraud. A recount led to a coalition between the Iraqi National Dialogue Front and the Iraqi National List known at the Iraqi National Movement, which  took power in November. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani remained in power.

2009 The  death toll was estimated at 5,000. Despite three fatal bombings orchestrated by al-Qaeda in the second half of the year, terrorist attacks and violence in general were down from the previous year. Iraq took significant steps to regain its sovereignty as U.K., Australian and Romanian troops left. In June, U.S. troops formally withdrew from all cities and towns, handing over all security responsibilities to Iraqi forces. After much debate and with the help of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and pressure from the United States, the Iraqi government passed a new electoral law that increased the number of seats in parliament from 275 to 325 to accommodate Sunni and Kurdish demands. National elections were set for March 7, 2010.

2008 In the wake of generally improved security, the Iraqi parliament approved a bilateral Status of the Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States, as well as a Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) for future international cooperation. Plans for provincial elections, excluding the Kurdish provinces and the ethnically divided northern region of Kirkuk, were made for January 2009. Improved security stemmed from the U.S. troop surge, the targeting of the rebel Mahdi Army and the formation of armed Sunni neighbourhood groups called Awakening Councils. But suicide bombings and human rights abuses continued. Violence was particularly intense in northern Iraqi cities, including Mosul and Kirkuk. Turkish military campaigns against Kurds resumed in the north.

2007 The United States launched a new security strategy that involved a troop surge of 21,500 U.S. forces. Widespread violence continued, including the deadliest single-day attack of the conflict, which killed 250-500 people. A major security breach occurred in Baghdad’s heavily fortified green zone. Sectarian violence and attacks on journalists and politicians continued, while police and state officials were increasingly targeted. The UN Security Council passed two resolutions, one to increase the UN’s presence in Iraq and another to extend the mandate of the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq. In November, the number of Iraqis killed dropped and the monthly count of U.S. troop deaths was, at 37, the lowest since March 2006. The humanitarian crisis in Iraq continued: many people were without access to clean drinking water and other basic necessities; stricter migration laws passed by Syria limited the ability of Iraqis to leave unsafe areas.

2006 Sectarian violence escalated, with as many as 35,000 killed. The December 2005 elections resulted in a government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The increase in sectarian violence led parliament to pass a bill allowing for the potential division of Iraq into three semi-autonomous regions in 2008 if no other solution could be found.

2005 Iraq’s government was formed and a new constitution was adopted after the election of the Transitional National Assembly in February. The Assembly was dissolved and replaced with a permanent parliament after late December elections. Intense fighting between U.S.-led troops and insurgents continued across Iraq, killing between 9,000 and 12,000 civilians and combatants.

2004 Major clashes between U.S.-led coalition forces and insurgents and frequent insurgent suicide bombings and attacks on Iraqi civilians and security forces continued, killing thousands. Some of the most intense fighting occurred during a coalition assault on the city of Fallujah that reportedly killed more than 1,600 insurgents and hundreds of civilians. The Interim Governing Council approved a new Iraqi constitution and the UN Security Council approved a U.S.-U.K. plan that set January 30, 2005 as the date for elections.

2003 After unsuccessful negotiations to secure a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force in response to Iraqi non-compliance with weapons inspectors, the United States formed a military coalition and invaded Iraq in March. The U.S.-led coalition, whose stated objective was to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, met little organized military opposition and within weeks had seized Baghdad, forced President Saddam Hussein into hiding, and established an interim U.S.-administered government. As the year progressed the armed opposition faced by coalition forces intensified and spread throughout the country.

Type of Conflict

State control

Parties to the Conflict

1. Government of Iraq: In September 2014, Dr. Haider al-Abadi became prime minister. The previous prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, had been in office since 2006 and was the leader of the State of Law Coalition (SLC), which assumed power after 2010 elections. The current president is Fuad Masum, who replaced Jalal Talabani in July 2014.

2. Iraqi security forces: They were assembled and trained by the coalition forces, including the NATO Training Mission in Iraq, before the mission concluded in 2011. Iraq signed an International Partnership and Cooperation Programme with NATO in 2012, which created a framework for future dialogue and training related to security. Trained Iraqi forces are under the authority of the Iraqi government. The Iraqi armed forces have 177,600 active troops:

  • Army: 100,000
  • Navy: 3,600
  • Air: 5,000
  • Air Defence: 4,000
  • Support troops: 65,000

The armed forces are supported by the Interior Ministry, which oversees the Iraqi Police Service, Federal Police, Facilities Protection Service, Border Enforcement and Oil Police.

3. Popular Mobilization Forces (PMFs, also known as PMUs – Popular Mobilization Units): PMFs began in June 2014 after a fatwa by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called all able-bodied men to take up arms against IS. In part, the PMFs are a reprise of militias formed after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Most PMFs are Shia and are backed by influential Shia regional powers, including Iran and Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. On November 26, 2017, parliament passed a law recognizing PMU militias as a part of the armed forces with full legal status, answering to the Prime Minister (International Crisis Group).

Supported by:

4. Awakening Councils/Sons of Iraq (SOI): From 2006-2011 armed neighbourhood groups of mainly Sunni Iraqis were actively fighting insurgents, with U.S. military financial support. By June 2012 nearly 70,000 members had been integrated into the Iraqi Security Forces.

5. Kurdish Peshmerga: Kurdish armed forces have been leading the fight against the Islamic State in northern Iraq since the Islamic State attacked the city of Mosul. They are supported by the anti-Islamic State Coalition and are said to number approximately 200,000.

6. UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI): Formed in 2003, in April 2012 the mission had 1,090 staff: 397 international civilians, 505 national civilians, 316 troops, eight military advisors and four police advisors. A July 2014 UN Security Council Resolution extended the mandate of UNAMI to July 31, 2015.


Various Shia factions: They seek to fill the political vacuum left by the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. They have distinct political agendas and employ different methods to attain their objectives, occasionally clashing with one another. The main groups are:

7. The Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI): The SCIRI, whose leadership was based in Iran during much of Saddam’s rule, represents much of Iraq’s Shia population. The Badr Corps, the armed wing of the SCIRI, was also based in Iran and allegedly received military support from its Iranian hosts. Although SCIRI leaders returned to Iraq in 2003 and were included in the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), the United States is wary of SCIRI’s links with the Iranian government. The U.S.-led coalition issued several warnings to the Badr Corps not to enter Iraq while hostilities continued.

8. The Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani: The most senior Shia religious leader in Iraq, he has influence over much of the Shia population. Although he was at times critical of the U.S.-led occupying force, he urged his followers not to take up arms against them. This moderate stand distanced him from some of the more militant Shia elements, while his Persian heritage alienated some non-Persian Shias. In 2014, Sistani called on volunteers to fight Islamic State, reportedly prompting thousands to take up arms.

9. Muqtada al-Sadr: This anti-U.S., junior Shia cleric controls the Baghdad-based Jaish al-Mahdi militia, which is said to have thousands of members. He frequently called for his followers to take up arms against the occupying forces. In 2007, al-Sadr announced a self-imposed ceasefire while he purged the militia of members he deemed untrustworthy. Many speculate that the militia is supported by Iran. After targeted attacks by Iraqi and U.S. forces in 2008, Mahdi  troop strength was reduced from as many as 50,000 to as few as 150, according to Iraqi intelligence. In 2014, al-Sadr mobilized tens of thousands of recruits to join Shia militias to fight IS.

Various Sunni factions: Sunnis dominated the country under Saddam Hussein and opposed the occupation by coalition troops. The Sunni groups include:

10. Jammat al-Tawhid w’al-Jihad: Sometimes called al-Qaeda in Iraq (or al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia), it is the most prominent insurgent group and has been blamed for some of the bloodiest bombings and beheadings. The group was led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. air strike in June 2006. He was replaced by Abu-Hamzah al-Muhajir.

11. Ansar al Islam/Ansar al Sunna/Supporters of Islam: Formed in December 2001, this Sunni Islamic group is composed primarily of Kurds who follow an extremist version of Islam. Their primary focus is opposing the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of two large secular Kurdish groups that, with U.S. backing, opposed Saddam Hussein. The group has close links to, and support from, al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden participated in the formation and funding of the group, which has provided safe haven to al-Qaeda in northeastern Iraq.

12. Mujahideen Shura Council: This is an organization of five insurgent groups, including al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Victorious Sect Army and the Islamic Jihad Brigade. It was formed in an effort to unify Sunni Islamist groups.

Other Insurgent Groups/Actors:

13. Islamic State: Initially called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), the organization was created in April 2013 with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, more commonly known as Abu Dua, at its head. ISIS was formed by amalgamating the Islamic State of Iraq and Jab hat al-Nusra and aims to create a state based on Sharia law. It is said to have a core of 30,000 to 35,000 members and affiliated fighters in Syria and Iraq and reportedly draws a significant number of foreign fighters. ISIS began as an al-Qaeda affiliate; however, in 2014, al-Qaeda cut its links to the organization. ISIS subsequently renamed itself the Islamic State and proclaimed a caliphate in its captured territory. As reports of mass killings and human rights abuses mount, it is internationally recognized as a terrorist organization.

14. Foreign fighters: Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of non-Iraqis, some allegedly linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist network, have joined the fight against coalition forces. Saudi Arabia and Libya, both U.S. allies in the fight against terrorism, were reportedly the source of approximately 60 per cent of the foreign fighters that entered Iraq in 2007, when the number of suicide bombings by foreigners peaked. Foreign suicide bombings then declined, with some resurgence in 2013.

International Actors

15. United States/NATO: U.S. troops made up the majority of the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) stationed in Iraq between 2003 and 2011, although more than 20 other countries, including Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Republic of Korea and Macedonia contributed to the coalition at some point. From 2009, when the United Kingdom, Australia, and Roman removed their forces, until 2011, U.S. forces the only foreign troops in Iraq. The number of U.S. troops in Iraq reached a high point of 170,000 in 2007.  At the end of 2011 all security responsibilities were transferred to Iraqi forces. The United States continues to supply Iraq with arms to fight opposition groups.

16. Anti-Islamic State Coalition: TheU.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State organized in 2014. It launched multiple airstrikes in northern Iraq to support local ground forces.

a) Allies providing air support and military equipment include the United States, Canada, Iraq, Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Czech Republic, Albania, Netherlands, Estonia, Hungary, Turkey and Lebanon.

b )Allies providing humanitarian aid include Sweden, Kuwait, Switzerland, Japan, Austria, New Zealand, South Korea, Ireland, Spain, Slovakia, Norway, Luxembourg and Qatar.

c) Allies that have only expressed support include Bulgaria, Egypt, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Israel, Kosovo, Oman, Poland, Croatia, Romania, Singapore and Taiwan.

d) Coalition supporters with unspecified commitment but with U.S. State Department confirmation of membership include Andorra, Bosnia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Morocco, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Tunisia and Ukraine.

e) Non–nation supporters include the Arab League and the European Union.

Status of Fighting

2017 In early January, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for several bombings in Baghdad’s Shia district that killed 59 people. On January 8, 20 individuals were killed and 50 injured in two attacks on marketplaces in eastern Baghdad. IS also claimed responsibility for attacks in the Shia districts of Baghdad in mid-February and for two attacks in Baghdad in May.

Much of the effort against IS by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces, paramilitaries and the Global Coalition against IS was concentrated on retaking Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. The offensive that began in October 2016 succeeded on July 10, 2017, when Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over IS in the city. At the end of the year, al-Abadi claimed that IS was defeated, although concerns about a guerilla war remained.

2016 The Iraqi army, with help from U.S. allies, pushed to take Mosul back form the Islamic State (IS) throughout the year. On January 20, 16 coalition airstrikes targeted IS. U.S. reports claimed that 14 IS fighting positions in Sinjar were destroyed. In February, IS took responsibility for suicide bombings that killed at least 70 in the Shiite district of Baghdad. A day later, suicide bombers killed at least 40 in Diyala and eight security forces at the Abu Ghraid checkpoint. A government official reported two chemical attacks on March 9 and 12 on Taza, a town south of Kirkuk city, with more than 600 wounded (International Crisis Group). May 11 saw a string of suicide bombings in Baghdad, with 66 killed in Sadr City, 17 in Kadhmiya, and nine in Jamiya (New York Times). On May 27, a U.S. military spokesman said that coalition airstrikes had killed approximately 70 militants in Falluja, including a city commander. Another U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi air force airstrike around Falluja on suspected IS fighters on June 28-29 reportedly killed at least 250 people (International Crisis Group). On July 3, a suicide bombing in Karrada district, central Baghdad killed at least 143 people, the deadliest attack in Baghdad since 2009 (New York Times).  In November, an IS bomb targeting Shiite pilgrims killed at least 80 at a roadside service station in southern Iraq. By the end of the year, Iraqi and U.S. forces had retaken al-Qirawan, al-Hadba, Wahda, and the Tal Afar airport in Baghdad, beginning a new push on three fronts into eastern districts (International Crisis Group).

2015 In February Islamic State launched an offensive in Anbar province, taking al-Baghdadi, a population centre northwest of Ramadi. On March 2 Iranian-backed Shiite militias, launched an operation to retake Tikrit from Islamic State. On March 25 the United States began airstrikes to support them. By early April Shiite militia, supported by Iraqi government forces, had retaken the city. However, IS continued to advance elsewhere, taking part of Iraq’s biggest oil field in Baiji on April 16. The same month, Iraqi government forces withdrew from their last foothold in Anbar province, eastern Ramadi. IS had seized all of Ramadi by the middle of May.

Led by Shiite militias, Iraqi forces launched a counter-attack against Ramadi at the end of May. On July 12 Shiite militia and the Iraqi government announced a major effort to retake Anbar province. On July 27 the allies launched another attack on Ramadi. In Fallujah an attack by Shiite militia and Iraqi government forces stalled. On December 28 government forces took central neighbourhoods of Ramadi.

Fighting between IS and Kurdish forces persisted during the year. In November the Kurds liberated Sinjar in Ninewa province. The following month Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and coalition air power repelled an IS attack on Kurdish positions in Mosul.

International forces had significant involvement in Iraq in 2015. The United States sent 450 troops to train the Iraqi army and Russia received permission to conduct airstrikes against IS in Iraqi airspace.

On August 10 a bomb in Diyala province killed 58 and wounded 100. A series of bombings four days later killed 67 (International Crisis Group).

2014 The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized key areas of Anbar’s main cities, Ramadi and Falluja, early in the year. The group continued to push east toward Baghdad, establishing a presence in the city of Abu Ghraib. In June the group captured the key northern city of Mosul. In Falluja, the government retaliated against insurgents with an indiscriminate shelling with barrel bombs; many were killed and thousands fled. Tens of thousands joined Shiite militias after mid-June calls from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to fight ISIL. ISIL announced the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in territories under its control in late June and renamed itself Islamic State (IS). Armed Shia militias recaptured some villages from IS. Reports emerged that Sunnis were massacred to avenge IS massacres of Shiites. The U.S.-led coalition launched airstrikes in northern Iraq against IS. After the coalition joined the conflict, IS released a statement encouraging the killing of civilians in coalition member countries. The New York Times reported that, of the 23 known American and European hostages held by IS since late 2012, seven had been killed, 15 freed for ransom and one was still being held at an unknown location.

In early August, IS fighters attacked the western semi-autonomous Kurdish region, heavily populated by Kurdish Christian and Yazidi minorities. Forty thousand, mostly Yazidi, people were trapped on Sinjar Mountain while fleeing the violence. U.S. airstrikes allowed many to flee to Syria and return to Kurdistan. At least 500 Yazidis, including 40 children, were killed and many more injured or threatened with death after IS fighters took control of Sinjar Mountain. The Kurdish Peshmerga forces advanced into the north and broke the siege of Sinjar Mountain in December, freeing hundreds of people.

Parliamentary elections caused significant violence. On February 7, a political candidate was assassinated. Following Prime Minister Maliki’s re-election, deadly bombings continued in Baghdad.

2013 Car bombings, assassinations and suicide attacks were responsible for thousands of deaths. The United Nations reported that May was the most violent month of the year, with 963 killed and 2,191 wounded. May 20 was one of the year’s bloodiest days, with 96 people killed in sectarian violence. In July, al-Qaeda-affiliated group Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) launched simultaneous attacks on the Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons, resulting in the release of over 500 inmates. In October, 855 were killed and 1,600 were wounded, according to the Iraqi ministries of Health, Interior and Defence. In late November, more than 50 people were killed in execution-style attacks for which no group claimed responsibility. Iraqi forces were deployed to the Syrian border in fear of conflict spillover. The UN’s special representative to Iraq warned that the Syrian conflict was fueling sectarian tensions and enabling insurgent groups to form cross-border affiliations.

2012 Bombings and targeted killings killed thousands, with most deaths in central Iraq. The complete withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of 2011 created a security vacuum in Iraq, despite prior assurances that Iraq was stable. Coordinated attacks perpetrated by the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq (ISI)—part of their ‘Destroying the Walls’ campaign—claimed hundreds of lives. The campaign had two goals: to release Muslim captives everywhere and to retake territory previously under ISI control. Attacks targeted staff and supporters of Prime Minister Maliki, but Shi’ite civilians often bore the brunt of the violence.

2011 Popular protests, beginning in February, led to hundreds of people being detained and violent clashes that killed dozens. Bombings and assassinations continued to be regular occurrences across the country. On August 15, 42 apparently coordinated attacks—including suicide bombs, car bombs, homemade bombs and attacks by gunmen—were launched throughout Iraq, two weeks after the Iraqi government agreed to formally negotiate with the United States about possibly leaving some troops in Iraq after the end of the year. On December 22, soon after U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq, a series of deadly bombings rocked Baghdad.

2010 Fatality rates were similar to those in 2009. Most conflict-related deaths were caused by bombings and suicide attacks. Major violence was seen during the disputed March elections and during a Shia pilgrimage in July. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks on Shia pilgrims.

2009 According to the Iraq Body Count, the number of violent civilian deaths dropped by almost half this year, to 4,644. There was a slight surge in violence before and after the handing over of security responsibilities from U.S. troops to Iraqi forces, but overall the Iraqi military was able to keep order. Extrajudicial killings involving government agents largely ceased this year. Bombings and executions by sectarian and extremist groups continued, although at a much lower level than in previous years. Insurgents targeted mainly political and religious institutions as well as minority groups and police. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for major bomb attacks on government institutions on August 19, October 25 and December 8, each killing more than 100. Bomb attacks this year, though less frequent, were more deadly, killing 2,972.

2008 Iraq experienced an overall improvement in security. Iraqi-U.S. forces targeted the Mahdi Army in and around Sadr City, greatly reducing their numbers. Reports suggested that between 570 and 2,000 Mahdi militants were killed between March and May. The 2007 surge of U.S. troops was augmented by the formation of Awakening Councils, armed neighbourhood groups led mainly by Sunni Iraqis in Sunni neighbourhoods, working with U.S. forces. Still, suicide bombings remained frequent and deadly, killing more than 100 In April. Abuses of human and civil rights continued. In the wake of a U.S.-Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement in November, the number of violent incidents increased. While security in Baghdad noticeably improved, violence shifted north; the region surrounding Kirkuk remained particularly volatile owing to ethnic tension between Kurds and Arabs, and control over regional oil. U.S.-Iraqi forces launched  a number of offensives in Mosul. In February, Turkish troops entered northern Iraq in an ongoing campaign against the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK); reports differed on the number of Turkish troops involved (1,000 to 10,000) and the fatalities incurred (PKK fatalities between 2 and 230; Turkish fatalities between 27 and 81). Intermittent Turkish air strikes were reported.

2007 On February 13, the United States launched a new security strategy involving a troop “surge” of 21,500, with a mandate to disarm militias and insurgents, particularly in Baghdad. Despite the surge, the number of attacks, including attacks on Iraqi infrastructure, reached an all-time high of close to 1,600 per week in June. A suicide bomber carried out an attack on Baghdad’s parliament, in the heavily fortified green zone, killing a Sunni lawmaker and a civilian. By September, the number of attacks had dropped to 900 per week, further decreasing to just below 600 at the beginning of December. Analysts argued that less violence in Baghdad led to more violence in rural areas, which were less heavily patrolled. A coordinated attack by four suicide bombers against the Yazidis, a small Kurdish-speaking sect in Nineveh province, killed 250 to 500, the deadliest single attack of the war. By September, more than 60,000 Iraqis per month were being forced to flee; almost 4.5 million Iraqis had fled the country or  been displaced inside Iraq, according to the UNHCR. In December, Turkey sent hundreds of troops across the border in the first confirmed ground operation to target rebel bases inside Iraq since 2003. The attack was aimed at the Kurdistan People’s Party (PKK) based inside Iraq. Iran shelled border zones in Iraq used by Kurdish guerrillas. After the withdrawal of troops from the southern Iraq city of Basra, attacks against British and Iraqi forces dropped by 90 per cent. Sectarian violence and violence against journalists and politicians continued. Police and state officials were increasingly targeted. The number of Iraqi army units capable of operating independently dropped from 10 in March to six in July. An opinion poll of more than 2,000 people across Iraq found that 70 per cent of Iraqis believed that security had deteriorated in the region covered by the U.S. military surge; 67-70 per cent believed that the surge hampered conditions for political dialogue, reconstruction and economic development.

2006 An attack on a major Shia religious site in February triggered sectarian violence, leading some analysts to label the situation a civil war. Increased violence, in the form of car bombings, explosions, gunfire, kidnappings and targeted killings, left the country in complete upheaval, causing the internal displacement of an estimated 1.5 million people and an equal number of refugees. Journalists, academics and physicians were also targeted by insurgents. The government was criticized for its inability to assert control over the situation. The mandate of the U.S.-led multinational force was extended by the UN Security Council for another year.

2005 Major fighting between U.S.-led troops and insurgents killed thousands of civilians and combatants. U.S. troops launched large-scale military operations, particularly in Anbar province, against insurgents who controlled several towns. Insurgents attacked foreign troops and Iraqi state forces with daily shootings and bombings. Al-Qaeda in Iraq carried out numerous suicide bombings, including major attacks on Shia civilians. Fighting between Iraqi and foreign rebels was reported.

2004 Intense fighting between coalition forces and insurgents continued, killing thousands, despite a U.S. declaration of the end of major combat operations. Suicide bomb attacks on civilians and Iraqi and coalition security personnel were launched across the country, including in the heart of Baghdad. Some of the most intense fighting took place during a November coalition siege of the rebel stronghold of Fallujah. The United States reported the deaths of more than 50 coalition troops and 1,600 insurgents, but did not report civilian deaths. Kidnappings and assassinations were common tactics employed by insurgents.

2003 On March 20, following the expiration of a U.S.-ultimatum issued to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq or face war, U.S. warplanes launched “decapitation strikes” targeting Hussein and other senior government officials. A six-week, U.S.-led military campaign followed. Troops moved through Iraq  virtually unopposed, until they reached the outskirts of Baghdad. Resistance by the Republican Guard was sporadic and disorganized; Baghdad fell in April. On May 1, U.S. President George W. Bush declared major combat operations over in Iraq, but fighting was intense for the rest of the year. Initial armed resistance, supposedly by Saddam loyalists, came mainly from the Sunni Triangle of central Iraq. Later attacks in the north and south involved ambushes and bombings, and became increasingly sophisticated. While military forces bore the brunt of the attacks, non-military personnel and institutions were also targeted; in August, the UN headquarters and in October, the International Committee of the Red Cross headquarters were bombed. Groups targeted rivals. The assassination of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim, a top Shia cleric, in August was attributed to loyalists of the former Baathist regime. Rival militant Shia factions vied for power. As the year went on, the conflict intensified, more non-military institutions and civilians were attacked, and suicide bombings became more frequent, leading analysts to believe that combatants from outside the country had entered Iraq.

Number of Dead and Displaced

Total: According to Iraq Body Count, a total of 267, 915 civilians and combatants had been killed in the conflict (Iraq Body Count). They estimate that approximately 176, 587 to 197,555 have been civilian (Iraq Body Count).  UNHCR recorded that, as of 2016, 4.2 million Iraqis had been displaced by the conflict (UNHCR).

2017 The UN Mission in Iraq recorded 3,403 civilian casualties in 2017, although they acknowledged that the numbers could be higher. An Associated Press investigation claimed that the number of people killed in the fight for Mosul, from October 2016 to July 2017, was between 9,000 and 11,000. Uppsala Conflict Data Program recorded 10,211 battle deaths for 2017. According to ACLED, the number of fatalities was significantly higher, at more than 32,000.

Refugees and IDPs: According to UNHCR, 2.6-million Iraqis remained internally displaced at the end of 2017. As of December 31, 2017, there were 247,057 Syrian refugees in Iraq. 

2016 Iraq Body Count’s database recorded 26,086 new conflict deaths this year (Iraq Body Count), including 16,393 civilians and approximately 9,693 combatants (Iraq Body Count).

According to UNHCR statistics,  there were 81,900 new Iraqi refugees, 598,000 new IDPs, and 185,100 Iraqi asylum-seeker claims in 2016. Iraq had 1.4 million IDP returns, the largest number in the world (UNHCR).

2015 Iraq Body Count’s online database recorded 12,504 civilian deaths between January and August 2015 (Iraq Body Count). recorded eight coalition deaths in 2015 (

The UN OCHA reported 3.2 million internally displaced people in November 2015, with Iraq hosting approximately 250,000 Syrian refugees (Relief Web). According to the UNHCR, as of June 2015 there were 377,747 refugees and 141,913 asylum seekers from Iraq (UNHCR).

2014 According to Iraq Body Count’s online database, there were 17,073 civilian deaths. UN OCHA reported the deaths of 20,000 civilians between January and September. reported three coalition deaths.

Refugees and IDPs: The UN OCHA reported that Iraq contained approximately 5.2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, including 1.8 million newly displaced people, 1.5 million in affected host communities, and 1.7 million in areas controlled by armed groups, plus an additional 0.2 million Syrian refugees dispersed throughout the northwest. According to UNHCR, there were 426,114 refugees and 53,177 asylum seekers from Iraq, and 1,903,943 internally displaced people in Iraq in July 2014.

2013 Iraq Body Count reported 9,475 civilian deaths. The UN estimate was 7,818 civilians (including police officers) killed and 17,981 injured.

Refugees: The UNHCR reported an estimated 409,181 Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan. The conflict has created nearly one million internally displaced persons. Approximately 350,000 Syrian refugees live in Iraq, in addition to refugees from Palestine, Turkey and other countries. As a result of the Syrian conflict, Syrian refugees have fled to Iraq and Iraqi refugees in Syria have returned, although many have been unable to return to their homes.

2012 Iraq Body Count recorded 4,574 civilian deaths, including 939 police, in 2,062 incidents. More than 900 shootings killed 1,616; in excess of 900 bombings killed 2,812. Agence France Presse reported 1,358 civilians, 440 police and 376 soldiers killed. UNAMI reported 3,238 civilian deaths.

2011 Sources estimated the death count at 4,447. Iraq Body Country reported 4,087 civilian fatalities; reported 306 Iraqi security forces and 54 coalition forces killed.

2010 An estimated 4,571 people were killed. Iraq Body Country reported 4,038 civilian fatalities; reported 468 Iraqi security forces, 60 coalition forces and five private contractors killed.

2009 This year’s death toll was more than 5,000. Iraq Body Count reported 4,644 conflict-related civilian deaths. According to the U.S. Department of State, the conflict killed an estimated 515 Iraq security forces, the majority police. reported a total of 143 U.S. forces killed.

2008 According to Iraq Body Count, 8,315-9,028 civilians were killed, a significant decrease from 2006 and 2007. The most significant drops occurred in Baghdad. In the latter half of 2008, the rate of U.S. military fatalities fell to between 13 and 29 a month, the lowest rate since the conflict began. A total of 314 U.S. forces were killed in 2008. According to the U.S. State Department, an estimated 1,900 Iraqi security forces were killed.

2007 Between 22,586 and 24,159 Iraqi civilians were killed; 902 U.S. forces were killed–the biggest yearly loss since the 2003 invasion. Car bombs and snipers killed an average of 100 people per day. Inadequate sanitation and clean water continued to threaten the lives of Iraqis; two-thirds of deaths of children under five were caused by diarrhea and respiratory infections. In November, the number of Iraqis killed dropped to 718–the lowest monthly death toll since the 2006 bombing of the Shia shrine. The number of U.S. troop deaths declined for the sixth consecutive month, to 37 (the lowest number since March 2006).

2006 An estimated 35,000 Iraqis, most civilian,  and 822 U.S. forces were killed.

2005 Between 9,000 and 12,000 people were killed, nearly half civilian.

2004 Conflict killed between 3,500 and 9,500. An estimated 848 U.S. and 38 non-U.S. coalition soldiers were killed. Media and conflict monitors estimated that between 2,400 and 7,500 Iraqi insurgents and civilians were killed, as well as a number of foreign contractors.

2003 Between 10,000 and 15,000 people, most Iraqi civilians, were killed. Several hundred coalition soldiers (mostly U.S.), approximately 2,000 Iraqi combatants and more than 5,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the six weeks of official war (March 20 to May 1).

Political Developments

2017 Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani pushed for a referendum on independence for Kurdish regions from Iraq. On September 25, the Iraqi Kurdish residents of the autonomous region and in disputed territories, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, overwhelmingly supported independence, with more than 92 per cent voting yes. However, the referendum was opposed by the Iraqi state and neighbouring countries. After the vote, Iraqi military retook Kirkuk, a long contested city and pushed the Kurdish forces and administration back to lands they controlled in 2003. In late October, Barzani was forced to step down as the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region. Internal disputes between the Turkey-backed Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Iran-backed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) continued to cause dissension in the Kurdish administration. In March. there were clashes between the rival Kurdish factions in northwestern Iraq.

2016 In response to popular discontent over the Iraqi government’s failure to implement anti-corruption reforms, Prime Minister Abadi said on February 9 that he would reshuffle the cabinet to replace political appointees with technocrats. On March 30, key political groups, including the opposition Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and Sunni Mouttahidoun, rejected Abadi’s new cabinet. Protests by MPs and large-scale demonstrations intensified in early April, prompting Abadi to propose the creation of a new cabinet. On April 15, more than 100 MPs began sitting in parliament to protest the postponement of the cabinet reshuffling. Abadi missed the deadline to submit the list of new cabinet members, causing Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to rally tens of thousands of protestors in Baghdad on April 19. On April 26, MPs disrupted a parliamentary session and stopped Abadi from presenting a third proposal (International Crisis Group).  On April 30, protestors broke into the fortified Green Zone, waving Iraqi flags, snapping photos, and breaking furniture, demanding an end to government corruption. Baghdad Operations Command announced a state of emergency, deploying additional forces around the capital. Protestors remained largely nonviolent (New York Times). The streets of Baghdad calmed down after Abadi appealed for the end of protests until Falluja was freed. Abadi continued to reshuffle the cabinet as the year went on (International Crisis Group).

Iraq-Turkey tensions heightened over Turkey’s involvement in the Mosul offensive. On October 6, Turkish President Erdoğan reiterated Turkey’s intention to participate and told Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi to “know his limits.” Abadi replied on October 22 that Turkey should respect Iraq’s sovereignty. A day later, Turkish artillery shelled the Islamic State Bashiqa near Mosul. U.S. President Barack Obama asked Erdoğan to coordinate Turkey’s actions with Baghdad and Washington (International Crisis Group).

2015 The killing of Sunni tribal leader Sheikh Qassem al-Janabi and members of his entourage resulted in increased criticism of Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi’s ability to make the country secure. On February 13, 75 Sunni Members of Parliament boycotted parliament, claiming that the government was ignoring violent Shiite militias (International Crisis Group). In August anti-establishment protests rocked Baghdad and the southern provinces. Protestors complained about poor service delivery and systemic corruption. The government cut the number of ministries and government executive positions.

In February the government drafted a law to establish a National Guard commanded by Sunnis at the local level. Sunni ministers, uncertain of the chain of command, rejected the proposal. On March 3 there was a discussion about creating legislation to merge Shiite militias into the National Guard. Sunni Members of Parliament were afraid that the proposal did not address the sectarian nature of the militias (International Crisis Group).

In Kurdistan in August, Goran and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, two of the region’s largest political parties, questioned incumbent President Masoud Barzani’s right to run for a third term. In October protests erupted in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniya over the government’s inability to pay its employees.

2014 Prime Minster Maliki began the year with requests for new arms and training from the United States; in late January Vice President Biden indicated that the United States would meet the request. In mid-February, Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr announced his retirement from politics ahead of the April elections, saying that no bloc in government or parliament would represent the Sadr Movement. Many Sadrists then resigned from governmental posts. Members of the Independent High Electoral Commission resigned in late March, citing political and judicial “interference,” but quickly withdrew their resignations after a UN appeal. In mid-July, several hundred leaders from a broad array of Sunni insurgent groups met in Jordan and pledged to keep fighting to remove the government.

Security continued to deteriorate before parliamentary elections, with the electoral commission cancelling balloting in parts of Anbar due to ongoing violence. With a 60-per-cent voter turnout, the election resulted in a victory for incumbent Prime Minister Maliki’s State of Law coalition, which won 92 seats – more than both leading rival Shiite groups combined. In August, Maliki stepped down after Iran, the United States, Saudi Arabia, approximately half of Maliki’s State of Law coalition, and leading Shiite rivals supported Dawa party member Haider al-Abadi for Prime Minister. In early October the National Guard was established to fight the Islamic State.

2013 Protests, led by Sunni Muslims initially demanding reform to Iraq’s Anti-Terrorism Law, began in December 2012 and continued in 2013. Although protests were initially peaceful, some protestors took up arms after government forces raided a Hawija protest camp in April, killing 51. Two Sunni Cabinet ministers resigned in solidarity with the protestors. After the dismantling of a protest camp in December left 10 dead, 44 members of the Iraqi parliament resigned. Provincial elections were held in most provinces in April (violence delayed some) and were considered free and fair by the UN; the Kurdistan province held elections in September. Human Rights Watch reported that in April, the government suspended the licences of nine Sunni TV stations and Al Jazeera, claiming that they were promoting sectarian violence. Iraq was listed first on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Global Impunity Index, which ranks countries based on the number of unsolved murders of journalists. In October, the government proposed the Ja’fari Personal Status Law, which would allow girls as young as nine to marry and affects divorce, inheritance and other marriage rights. The proposed law, based on principles from the Shia Ja’fari school of Islamic thought, was condemned by Human Rights Watch as being contradictory to children’s and women’s rights.

2012 In March, the Higher Judicial Council announced that Vice-President al-Hashemi was to be tried in absentia for his alleged role in running death squads; iIn September, he was sentenced to death for his role in two murders. The arrest warrant was issued in December 2011, but both Qatar and Turkey refused to extradite al-Hashemi when he took refuge in their territories. To protest Turkey’s  lack of cooperation, Iraq stopped registering Turkish companies. Kurdistan’s President Talabani suffered a stroke late in the year, fueling fears that the already high tensions between Baghdad and Kurdistan could erupt into crisis. These fears did not materialize. In December, thousands of protesters demanded the resignation of Prime Minister al-Maliki, alleging corruption.

2011 Protests, beginning early in the year, shook Iraq and much of the Middle East and North Africa. Although similar to other Arab Spring protests in that they were organized partly by middle-class, secular intellectuals, the protests in Iraq did not call for regime change. Instead, people demanded reform, including more electricity and jobs, and an end to corruption. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s fragile governing coalition ordered curfews on cars and admonished people to stay home. Despite this, tens of thousands of Iraqis gathered on a so-called Day of Rage in February. Protests began peacefully, but degenerated after government forces fired water cannons, sound bombs and live bullets to disperse crowds, killing dozens. Protests continued into March. By year’s end, nearly all U.S. troops, with the exception of a few hundred military trainers, had left Iraq. Al-Maliki accused Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi of running a death squad and then threatened to discard Iraq’s fragile power-sharing government.

2010 Elections were held on March 7 amid allegations of fraud. A recount led to a coalition between the Iraqi National Dialogue Front and the Iraqi National List. The coalition, the Iraqi National Movement (INM), took power in November. Incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani remained in power. Iyad Allawi became head of the Security Council. The INM described itself as a secular, non-sectarian party, boasting both Sunni and Shia members, with a platform based on increasing national security.

2009 Progress was made in reestablishing Iraq’s sovereignty; steps were taken to institute the Status of the Forces Agreement, approved in 2008. U.S. troops withdrew from all towns and cities by the end of June, handing over security responsibilities to Iraqi forces. By the end of the year, the Iraqi army had more than 660,000 troops, organized into 13 infantry divisions and one mechanized division, as well as 185 fully trained battalions and more than 55 brigades. The 130,000 remaining U.S. troops took on an assistance and training role, and aided Iraqi forces with close air support, communications, intelligence, surveillance and logistical infrastructure, when needed. All British, Australian and Romanian forces were withdrawn by July. January provincial elections had a 51-percent voter turnout. Few violent incidents were reported during voting, although some candidates were killed while campaigning. With the help of UNAMI and under pressure from the United States, the government finally passed new national electoral legislation on December 6, after months of debating. The number of seats in parliament was increased from 275 to 325 to accommodate Sunni and Kurdish claims. UNAMI provided support for election preparations and also worked to resolve internal boundary conflicts.

2008 On September 24, the Iraqi parliament called for provincial elections in late January 2009, except in the ethnically divided Kirkuk region and the three Kurdish provinces. In November, Parliament approved a long anticipated, bilateral Status of the Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States, which required U.S. troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, legalized their operations on the streets of Iraq until mid-2009 and allowed them to work in close consultation with Iraqi military forces until their final withdrawal. Approximately 143,000 U.S. troops remained in Iraq at the end of 2008; opponents of SOFA saw it as a means of extending the illegitimate presence of foreign forces in Iraq. SOFA subjected  U.S. military contractors to Iraqi law and required U.S. security forces to respect certain civil rights and regulations. Parliament also approved a Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) governing bilateral cooperation on a wide range of activities. The UN also expanded UNAMI’s mandate in November, emphasizing its role in advancing political dialogue and reconciliation. On December 31, the mandate of 5,000 U.K. and Australian troops was extended until July 2009. In December, thousands of protesters in Baghdad demanded the release of journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi, who was detained after throwing his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush during a press conference.

2007 Ministers from the Concord Front, Iraq’s largest Sunni bloc, resigned after accusing the government of failing to appropriately manage Shia militias and of the arbitrary arrest and detention of Sunni citizens. The government was also criticized for unsatisfactory progress on security, specifically disarmament, and for failing to implement reconstruction programs. The UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution proposed by the United States and the United Kingdom, calling for a greater UN presence in Iraq and the deployment of a UN special envoy. The Security Council also agreed to an Iraqi request to extend the mandate of the U.S.-led multinational force. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met the Prime Minister of Iran in Syria, against U.S. objections. U.S armed forces began arming Sunni militias to combat al-Qaeda, raising fears of increased sectarian violence. More than two million Iraqis remained displaced within Iraq, while thousands fled the country daily. Syria, home to 1.2 million Iraqi refugees, passed legislation restricting the movement of refugees to Syria. The United States faced international condemnation for human rights abuses of prisoners in Iraq and the behaviour of U.S. companies in Iraq. The CIA investigated the killing of 17 civilians by Blackwater, a U.S. private security company, and found that at least 14 of the deaths were unjustifiable.

2006 The results of elections for Iraq’s first democratically elected non-transitional government were released in February. The Shia coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, won 128 seats; two Sunni blocs, the Iraqi Accordance Front and the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, won a total of 55 seats; the Kurdish alliance received 53; and the secular Iraqi National List 25. According to the constitution, the government would serve four years. In April, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari resigned and was replaced by Nouri al-Maliki. In response to the rise of sectarian violence, a bill was passed in October that could create semi-autonomous regions in 2008.

2005 National elections were held in January. The Shia-based United Iraqi Alliance won 140 seats, the Kurdish Alliance 75 seats and the Iraqi List (interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s alliance)  40 seats in the 275-seat Transitional National Assembly. Sunni political groups boycotted the elections. Two months later, the interim National Assembly approved the creation of a new Iraqi government with Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani President and Shia leader Ibrahim Jaafari Prime Minister. In October,the constitution was approved in a nationwide referendum; Shia and Kurdish support ensured the necessary majority despite overwhelming Sunni opposition. Parliamentary elections for Iraq’s first non-transitional government were held in late December, with the participation of Sunni-based parties.

2004 Six months after the December 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein, the U.S.-led coalition handed over power to an interim Iraqi government. The UN Security Council unanimously approved a plan drafted by the U.S. and U.K. governments to hold elections and to keep coalition forces in Iraq beyond the handover of power. Leading Shia politician Ayad Allawi was appointed Iraq’s first Prime Minister by the Interim Governing Council; top Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani brokered a new ceasefire in August between U.S. forces and followers of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr after the original ceasefire broke down. A fact-finding mission by UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi led UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to conclude that Iraqi elections were not feasible before the end of 2004 or early 2005. The Interim Governing Council signed a provisional constitution; the Iraqi electoral commission set January 30 as the date for nationwide elections. Predicting a Sunni boycott, the Iraqi Islamic Party withdrew from the elections process; other Sunni parties did not plan to run candidates.

2003 A November 2002 UN Security Council resolution called for Iraq’s full disclosure of its program for weapons of mass destruction (WMD). By early 2003, Iraqi compliance remained unclear. For several weeks in February, the United States and the United Kingdom attempted to persuade members of the Security Council of the necessity of military action against Iraq. The United States claimed that Iraq posed an enormous threat to regional and international peace and security because of alleged WMD stockpiles. The United States also linked Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with al-Qaeda. Progress made by UN weapons inspectors in January and February led several members of the Security Council to argue that inspections were working and to call for continued inspections, insisting that the use of force be authorized only as a last resort. The United States insisted that action was required against Iraq regardless of UN authorization. On March 20, the United States, backed by a coalition of approximately 40 states, invaded Iraq. After a few weeks, the United States appointed an interim government to replace the deposed Hussein, who was not captured until December. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), consisting of U.S. officials, was created to implement a system of governance in Iraq. In July, the CPA appointed an Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), comprised of Iraq’s various ethnic and religious groups. The CPA and the IGC agreed to transfer power to a democratically elected government guided by a permanent constitution by December 2005. By the end of the year, the grounds on which the U.S.-led coalition  had based military intervention—Iraq’s possession of WMD—were discredited by the failure to find any evidence of WMD in Iraq. Although the UN formed the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), the August bombing of the UN’s Baghdad headquarters led to a significant reduction in the number of international UN staff posted in Iraq.


After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and the subsequent UN-authorized military operation Desert Storm succeeded in expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait, the UN Security Council imposed extensive disarmament obligations on Iraq in Resolution 687.

In 1998, the Iraqi government stopped cooperating with the UN Special Commission, created in 1991 to monitor Iraq’s disarmament efforts. Iraq was harshly condemned by the UN Security Council; the Special Commission was withdrawn later in the year. In 2002, months after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, U.S. President George W. Bush called on the UN Security Council to live up to its obligations as specified in Resolution 687 and insist that either Iraq disarm or it would be forcibly disarmed by the international community. Security Council Resolution 144 of November 2002 stated that Iraq “has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions.” Resolution 144 called for the establishment of an “enhanced inspection regime,” reissuing a warning that Iraq would “face serious consequences” if it did not comply with its obligations.

In the next months, some UN member states, particularly the United States and United Kingdom, argued that Iraq was not cooperating with the weapons inspection team and that the existing resolutions allowed for force to be used to disarm Iraq. Others, led by France, argued that although Iraq was not cooperating fully with the weapons inspectors, an additional resolution explicitly authorizing the use of force would be required before a military intervention. Moreover, they argued, recent cooperation was an indication that weapons inspections were succeeding and should therefore continue. No consensus was reached at the Security Council and no explicit authorization of use of force was issued. A U.S.-led coalition force invaded Iraq in March 2003, deposing Saddam Hussein.

A new government and constitution were formed after the election of the Transitional National Assembly in 2005; later a permanent parliament was formed. Conflict deaths increased sharply after the deployment of the U.S.-led coalition force; sectarian violence escalated and coalition troops clashed with insurgent groups. The UN Security Council passed two resolutions in 2009: one to increase the UN’s presence in Iraq and another to extend the mandate of the multinational force.

U.S. troops completed their withdrawal by the end of 2011.

Following the U.S. withdrawal, Prime Minister Maliki attempted to consolidate his power, alienating many of the Sunni minority. The Islamic State (IS) exploited these political developments to rally the support of Sunnis, although many Sunnis subsequently rejected IS control.

Arms Sources

The informal and sudden dissolution of Iraqi security forces and their subsequent disbanding by invading U.S. forces resulted in the diffusion throughout Iraq of large numbers of small arms that were readily available to insurgents. The United States was unable to account for 190,000 weapons issued to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005. It spent $19.2-billion on Iraq’s security forces after 2003, including $2.8-billion on equipment. The influx of fighters from outside Iraq may have been accompanied by an influx of weapons. For example, the Badr Corps, which entered Iraq through Iran, reportedly received Iranian military assistance for more than a decade. U.S. and UK forces were supplied primarily by domestic industries.

The Small Arms Survey reported that a network funneled Iranian weapons to Iraqi armed groups; 29 per cent of weapons found in arms caches in 2008-2009 were from Iran. Another 16 per cent came from the Russian Federation and 13 per cent from China (Small Arms Survey, “Surveying the Battlefield: Illicit Arms in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia,” 317).

Iraqi shepherds dug up landmines planted during the Iran-Iraq war and sold them to insurgents, who used the mines to create roadside bombs. Of the estimated 12-16 million mines planted along the border with Iran, fewer than 10,000 were removed between 1998 and 2002 by UN troops. Approximately 30 per cent of insurgent weapons found in Diyala province were from the Iran-Iraq war, including mines and buried weapons caches. Insurgent groups also bought arms with money extorted from Iraqi contractors.

An investigation was launched into the disappearance in 2004 of four planeloads of weapons, including more than 99 tonnes of AK-47s, which the U.S. government had contracted to be flown from a U.S. base in Bosnia to Iraqi security forces in Baghdad. It revealed that a Moldavian cargo firm with ties to Viktor Bout, a Russian air transporter and one of the world’s most notorious arms dealers, had the contract. The plane was recorded taking off, but there is no record of its landing in Baghdad. Many criticized the U.S. government for inadequate diligence in tracking U.S.-supplied arms entering the country. Insurgents employed many boys as bomb-makers. Many Iraqis with no direct role in the conflict earned a livelihood through small-scale arms deals; unemployment was as high as 60 per cent in some areas.

In October 2012 the Iraqi government announced weapons deals with the United States, Russia, and the Czech Republic as part of a plan to regain control over airspace. The deal with Russia was worth up to $5-billion, making Russia the largest supplier of arms after the United States. Iraq ordered attack helicopters from Russia and secondhand ground vehicles from the Czech Republic (The Military Balance, Vol. 116, 361-62).

According to The Military Balance, the Iraqi government’s military budget was $18.9-billion in 2014, $21.1-billion in 2015, and $18.1-billion in 2016 (The Military Balance, Vol 116, 331; Vol 117, 380). Between 2002 and 2011 arms imports to Iraq increased by more than 300 per cent; Iraq is the nineteenth-largest importer of arms in the world.

An initial shipment of 75 U.S. Hellfire missiles was delivered in December 2013. The United States was also prepared to send surveillance drones and missiles.

In 2014 the United States deployed an aircraft carrier and announced plans to send 300 military advisors to Baghdad and armed drones to assist them. In late November the Pentagon announced plans to spend $24.1-million on training and supplying Sunni tribes with light weapons. In 2014 Russia and Iran supplied the Iraqi army with Su-25 ground-attack aircraft.



Economic Factors

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) noted Iraq’s economic dependence on oil, its only export (International Monetary Fund, 2). Estimates of the amount of oil and natural gas on Sunni lands were raised after oil companies re-examined seismic data and retrained petroleum engineers. It had been believed that these areas lacked the natural resources found in other parts of the country; such a belief encouraged Sunnis to participate and support a strong central government, in the hope that it would distribute oil resources equitably. These discoveries may increase the call by many separatist and insurgent groups to divide Iraq along sectarian and regional lines.

Oil was a source of division between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil, northern Iraq and the government in Baghdad. The Kurds controlled major oil fields in the north. In December 2014 the two governments reached a deal in which the Kurds handed over 250,000 barrels per day to Baghdad which then exported it. However, in July 2015 the KRG bypassed Baghdad, sending oil directly from the Kirkuk oil field to shipping points.

On January 6, 2016, the finance minister announced that the Iraqi government would likely be unable to pay salaries in 2016 due to a financial crisis provoked by a sharp drop in oil prices. The Kurdistan regional government restarted oil exports after a three-week break in March 2017. On December 20, the World Bank approved a $1.485-billion loan to the Iraqi government to improve public service delivery and stimulate growth (International Crisis Group).

Islamic State’s largest source of income is oil from its captured territories. According to the IMF, in IS-held Iraqi territory, militants emptied storage tanks, pipelines, and pumping stations to obtain roughly 3-million barrels of oil (International Monetary Fund, 7). IS also had partial or total control of the oil fields in northern Iraq. It reportedly received between $1,000,000 and $3,000,000 a day by selling crude, extracting an estimated 44,000 barrels of oil from Syrian wells and 4,000 from Iraqi wells every day and selling below market price. According to some observers, the number of IS-controlled oil fields in Iraq declined from seven in mid-2014 to four at the end of 2014 with production at these facilities reportedly dropping (International Monetary Fund, 7).

IS allegedly made $8-million per month by extorting businesses in Mosul. Other sources of income included taxation of religious minorities, trafficking in antiquities, and ransom payments. It is estimated that the group made as much as $20-million in ransom payments in 2014.

Farmers in southern Iraq started to grow opium poppies for the first time in 2007, sparking fears that Iraq might become, like Afghanistan, a major drug producer. Drug smugglers continued to use Iraq as a transit point for the heroin produced in opium labs in Afghanistan.

The U.S. agency overseeing reconstruction in Iraq criticized the Iraqi government for failing to provide basic services such as food and shelter for eight million people and cited economic corruption and mismanagement as equivalent to a second insurgency. In 2006 the government spent only 22 per cent of the budget allocated for vital rebuilding projects. Prevailing insecurity is said to have created an underground economy that supported gangs, smugglers and extremists. High rates of unemployment led many citizens to participate in arms dealing and weapons manufacturing, as well as to become involved in the insurgency.

Iraq was ranked 170 out of 175 countries on Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index. Iraq’s openness over finances was rated as “scant or none.” In a 2014 working paper, the World Bank estimated that the conflict in Iraq had resulted in a 16-per-cent drop in per capita welfare.


map: CIA Factbook

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