Conflict Tracker


Ihsan Ibrahim
Orlando Diggs
11 Jan 2022
5 min read


After nearly two decades since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, Iraq is trying desperately in 2022 to reestablish its national identity and avoid being pulled further into the orbit of its historical rival, Iran, or divided from within between continued ISIS attacks, Turkish occupations and incursions to eradicate the PKK; Kurdish efforts toward greater autonomy in the north; and a host of divisions across the various coalitions of Shia and Sunni Arabs seeking stability amidst the storms.

The divisions across the country have rendered Iraq weak and vulnerable to outside manipulations, chiefly from Iran and Turkey. ISIS continues to be a significant threat across numerous local communities. Iranian-backed militia patrol and police areas that are not their historical homes, echoing many of the conditions that initially led to the rise of ISIS and their everyday Sunni supporters in the first place.

If conditions do not change, many fear Iraq could enter “failed state” status, ISIS could return to power in certain territories, and/or Turkey could find success in redrawing the map in the north.

The popular feeling in northern Iraq that Russia has been able to wage war with impunity has many fearing that Turkey, a NATO member, would be given even more leeway to erase the Kurds across northern Iraq and northern Syria.

Here are a few notable things we’re watching right now.


ISIS was born out of the insurgency movement against the United States and Shia coalition after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. By 2013, countless Sunnis had been summarily rounded up and disappeared into prison camps, where they were mistreated, tortured, and, in many cases, eventually escaped or were released back into society. A decade of insurgency finally came to a head in the summer of 2014 when the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” took over the city of Mosul, all of its environs, and other major cities across centra and Western Iraq. When all was said and done, ISIS controlled about ⅓ of the country and had committed genocide against many of Iraq’s religious and ethnic minorities. ISIS had territorial control of what it called its “caliphate” until the late summer of 2017. Hundreds of thousands were killed in the conflict. Millions were displaced. And entire cities were destroyed in the effort to oust ISIS from the new country they had effectively carved out for themselves.

But the official end of the “caliphate” in 2017 did not mark the end of ISIS, though many across the globe could be forgiven for thinking that was the case. More than five years on, and ISIS still poses a significant daily threat to the well-being of many Iraqis and Syrians, although the recent killing of top leadership has no doubt weakened their operations and their resolve.

Turkish Military in Iraq

As of July 2022, Turkey is operating five military bases in Iraq, with a force of some 4,000 Turkish fighters in 100 different locations (up 2.5X since the year prior). In addition to the in-country force, Turkey has been committing an increasing number of cross-border attacks and incursions, as well.

The U.N. Security Council condemned the Turkish bombardment of an Iraqi tourist village in July 2022 that killed nine people and injured at least 23.

Many across Iraq feel the Turkish invasion, occupation of territory, and overt attacks are merely the precursor to a more wide-scaled Turkish operation across northern Iraq to eradicate the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and reclaim territory that Turkey lost with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Widespread conspiracy exists across both Turkish and Kurdish populations about the supposed “expiration” of the Lausanne Treaty (1923) and “what happens next” at the end of the 100-year mark. No such “expiration” exists, but the mythology behind it is fueling much grassroots fear about Turkey’s intentions and whether or not Kurdish and Iraqi governments are doing enough to combat the attacks that are thought to be imminent.

PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party)

The PKK Kurdistan Workers Party is a militant political organization and armed militia founded in 1978 on a mixture of socialism and Kurdish nationalism. The PKK has fought against the suppression and erasure of Kurds by the Turkish state and for Kurdish self-rule inside Turkey ever since, with bases and wide support across northern Syria and Iraq.

The PKK is a designated terror group by Turkey, the EU, and the United States, while the PKK itself claims the designation is old and that they have resigned from all terror activity, asking that the label be overturned.

Turkey vehemently rejects this argument and has used the weakness of both Syria and Iraq over the last few decades to increase its own cross-border positions and attacks against the PKK, their allies, and their network.

The Shia Divide

While the casual outsider has been conditioned to understand Iraq through the lens of Sunni vs Shia; Arab vs Kurd; or even Muslims vs Minorities, the reality is that Iraq is deeply beset by intra-group divisions, especially among the Shia and the Kurds.

In the summer of 2022, the political process has rushed to the brink and ground to a standstill as  Moqtada al-Sadr and Nuri al-Malaki,  two of the most prominent leaders across all Iraqi politics, jockey for power.

Moqtada al-Sadr, who hails from a prominent family of Shia clerics with influence across the Middle East, is the leader of the Sadrist Movement, and was once known as “the most wanted man in Iraq” by the U.S. Today, he is seen as a king-maker who commands the loyalty of perhaps hundreds of thousands across the country who are ready to show up to protest, blockade, or even fight on behalf of the politics he promotes.

Nouri al-Malaki is the former Prime Minister of Iraq who led the country through the height of the civil war and rebuilding years, until the ISIS takeover of approximately one-third of the country in the summer of 2014. After his ouster, he became Vice President and has remained a fixture in the political class ever since while trying to regain the premiership.

Internally Displaced Iraqis

The ISIS takeover and the war to defeat ISIS from 2013-2017 remains the original catalyst for nearly 1.2M Iraqis who are still living in displacement, as of April 2022. Of a representative sample, 95% said their homes were destroyed or highly damaged.

In Oct 2020, the Iraqi government announced its intentions and began shuttering IDP camps across the country. Despite protests from the IDPs themselves and the NGO community that serves them, the closing of camps and forced returns continued apace. With many IDPs having no “home” to return to and no resources to start again, the camp closures are only leading to secondary and tertiary displacement.

HUMANITE supports the voluntary, dignified, right of displaced people to return to their homes on their own terms in a safe and coordinated manner that does not unreasonably place them in further danger or need.

Syrian Refugees in Iraq

The influx of Syrians fleeing violence in their homeland has put a strain on Iraq's economy because they cannot legally work here or support themselves financially without doing so illegally.

As of summer 2022, there are still more than a quarter million Syrian refugees living in Iraq, according to the UN, with donations and services for these same refugees at an all-time low. Though most refugees who flee to camps do so in order to receive standardized services, 86% of those in camps today face food insecurity.

With a weak Iraqi dinar and rising prices subsequent to the war in Ukraine, many refugees are trapped in debt due to lost wages, buying essentials on credit, etc.


Iraq is one of the countries where HUMANITE was initially founded and works today. HUMANITE founders and team have a 15-year history together in Iraq of providing help to stop the spread of violence and fortify peace before, during, and after war.

Today, HUMANITE engages in a wide range of work across Iraq, from emergency food relief, job creation, to home and business rebuilding in neighbourhoods and towns destroyed by war.

As a team of Iraqis ourselves, HUMANITE is committed to the people of Iraq. While many foreign organizations have come and gone, HUMANITE is still here doing all we can for our neighbours until peace is strong again.

Share this post
Ihsan Ibrahim
Orlando Diggs
11 Jan 2022
5 min read

Want to help?
Become a member!


HUMANITE’s Conflict Tracker is informed and updated by input from our collective of staff, fellows, volunteers, donors, humanitarian partners, analysts, and our network of government, military, and professional contacts across the globe. Leads and tips are fact-checked against U.N., ACLED, local media, and major international media outlets.

Want more peace
in the world?

Insider views on the rise and fall of peace around the world in a style you'll actually want to read.
Dashboard mockup