Beyond Violence 


get involved forum email petition donate

Iraq, once a home of one of the earliest civilizations, has become a violent battlefield. The US-led pre-emptive invasion of Iraq in 2003, based on the allegations that Iraqi regime had possessed WMD and supported al-Qaeda, toppled down the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein. Yet, the country has not witnessed the desired stabilization and better future. Instead, it has fallen in the trap of violent civil war in which more than 100,000 people died. Soon after the invasion, violence against the Coalition forces and among various Iraqis factions erupted resulting in thousands of casualties and a deepened sectarian strife in the Iraqi society. Even though, the war officially ended in December 2011 with the withdrawal of US military personnel, the sectarian violence continues and has caused thousands of deaths. By 2012, almost 10 years after the fall of Hussein’s regime and one year after the pullout of Coalition forces, the situation is far from being stabilized.


► Key issues

Sectarian rivalry

At the heart of the conflict is the ascent of the Shi’a Arab majority to the ruling status. Iraq is a Muslim country where Shi’a Islam is prevailing. Yet, the Sunni minority ruled the country since the early 20th century. After the first election (2005) – in which Iraqis voted strictly along their sectarian and ethnic affiliation – the success of Shi’a representatives came with no surprise. The disagreement over power share resulted in Sunni-led insurgency erupting in 2006. This led to a violent conflict between Sunni and Shi’as paramilitias across the country. In addition, the Iraqi conflict attracted diverse foreign actors to support a preferred faction of the conflict. The conflict has deepened the sectarian division between the Iraqis religious communities and spread distrust and further fed stereotypes.

Power balance and distribution of wealth

Iraq is home not only for diverse sectarian but also ethnic groups. Each group aspires to achieve relevant power share. No one wants to get into a position of a marginalized minority. In this respect, a big challenge poses the establishment of power balance that would be respected by all factions. Otherwise, it can significantly jeopardize the future of the country. This relates closely with the wealth distribution. Iraq has a great natural resources of oil. Even though, Iraq nowadays exports a relatively small amount of oil, its oil reserves belongs to the world’s largest. The oil revenues used to serve the prior regimes to buy loyalty of important people. This way, only a small share of Iraqi population benefited from the petrodollars. Currently, the federal government is facing a challenge how to divide and distribute the oil revenues in a just way, so no Iraqi faction would feel neglected.

Ongoing low-level insurgency

After the withdrawal of the Coalition forces in 2011, the federal Shi’a-led government has been struggling to protect Iraqis without the Coalition-military backup vis-a-vis diverse militias. Since December 2011 several hundred people have been killed in bomb blasts hinting at ongoing activity of diverse terrorist groups and violent factions that undermines the fragile stability Iraq is struggling to reach.

► Key actors

Iraqi government

The national unity government approved by the parliament in 2010 is led by the Shi’a leader, Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. It includes all major factions of Iraqi’s population. Though, so far it has to proved to be weak to face the security, political and societal challenges given to the internal tensions and contestations between individual political factions.

Groups of insurgents

The Iraqi civil conflict is a very complex phenomena in which numerous of groups are struggling to achieve miscellaneous goals. The following list of Iraqi insurgent groups is not complete. It features only one of the main insurgent actors. Though, it should not, in any case, imply that there are no other groups striving through violent means to achieve their goals.

The Islamic State of Iraq (Dawlat al-Iraq al-Islamiyya)

The Islamic State of Iraq is an umbrella organization unifying various Iraqi insurgent groups of Sunni faith. It was established in 2006 and its aim is to establish a Sunni caliphate. One of its most influential member is al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)

The Sunni-Salafi militant organization is believed to be still actively involved in the violent activities in the country. The group aims to seize the power and turn Iraq in a Sunni Islamic state. According to the US intelligence, the group has regained its position after the US military withdrawal and currently is carrying out in average 140 attacks each week across the country. In most cases, it targets Shi’a pilgrims, security forces or officials of the Shi’a led-government. Even though, the activity is lower in comparison to the peak of the sectarian violence between 2006-2007, the regular rounds of bomb attacks and shootings fuels public resentment towards the government, which proves to be unable to curb the violence.

Special groups

“Special groups” is a name given to the combatants who defied from the Shi’a militia The Mahdi Army after its leader declared ceasefire. It refers to a three Shi’a militant groups that continue in violent activities within Iraq. It includes The League of Righteous (Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq), Hezbollah Brigades (Kata’ib Hizballah) and Promised Day Brigades. The “Special groups” are believed to be financially supported by Iran.

► Prospects for non-violent peace transformation

Iraq has gone through a very painful conflict which has left deep imprints in all Iraqis. Even though, the violence has decreased, it remains to play a significant role in daily life of millions of Iraqis. To overcome the deep sectarian and ethnic strife a balanced way has to be found to deal with the sectarian and ethnic divisions in the society. In the manner that none of the groups would feel marginalized. This extremely challenging goal requires a lot of patience, time, will and compromises of all involved sides.

► Further reading