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Rebuilding Security in Fragmented Societies: Iraq

In 2014, the brutal offensive of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (also known as the Islamic State or Daesh as per its Arabic acronym) led to the conquest of large parts of the Iraqi (and Syrian) territories in short order. The Iraqi army met this aggression not by fighting the jihadi group and defending the country’s territory but instead by massively fleeing, coming as a stark reminder of the extreme fragility of the security sector in Iraq. In this situation, the reconstruction of the security order is critical to Iraq’s future as a territorial and political reality. Moreover, the reform of the security sector is intertwined with issues related to the distribution of power between the country’s communities.

The project’s case study of Iraq and the rebuilding of its security sector considers multiple different dimensions of the country’s current context. How can SSR, even minimal at first, assist thousands of displaced civilians who currently have no socio-political or economic horizon beyond daily survival? How can the reconstruction of the country’s armed forces ensure that the struggle presently waged against the Islamic State will lead, in the longer run, to the creation of a new security apparatus? And in this case, what could be the best formula for Iraq’s security sector: re-centralisation, federalisation, or regionalisation?

To tackle these challenges, the project proposes to research in close proximity to key players four complementary areas:

  1. The development of the security sector in Iraq since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. The case study research commences with a critical review of the failure of the new Iraqi army and its causes. From here, the research will investigate the means for the army’s re-professionalisation, the necessary balance between civil and military institutions, and the best reforms to adopt in order to deter sectarianism, patronage and militia infiltration.
  2. Informal security players and their strategies in Iraq, specifically given the blatant challenges to the government’s legitimacy. The case study places particular emphasis on the Sunni fighters and tribes as well as the jihadi and Shiite militias to whom many Iraqis seem to have reoriented their loyalties, and how official authorities have made use of them.
  3. The roles of players as diverse as the military, Kurdish peshmergas, Sunni sheikhs and Shiite militiamen in the restoration of security. The research investigates the successes of this strategy and its obvious limits. More precisely, the case study explores whether the integration of these forces within new entities such as a national guard is realistic in view of Iraq’s advanced fragmentation that leaves little hope for national reconciliation.
  4. The question of regional influences and interference, and their relevance. The project analyses the extent to which such intervention can truly contribute to stabilising Iraq, and if so, how (the terms of such intervention, the instruments to be utilized, and the delineation of objectives), or whether such external interference feeds instability and if it should be contained in order to not thwart efforts deployed locally. The case study thus explores the real room for manoeuvre of the West and the United States in particular in the rebuilding of security and stability in Iraq.
Project Publications
In Search of an Iraqi Army
In the midst of a suffocating Iraqi summer, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi approved court-martial proceedings against several army commanders who had abandoned their posts, allowing Islamic State fighters to take over the city of Ramadi. Against a backdrop of intense fighting, increasingly complex conflict dynamics and palpable anxiety in the West regarding the best strategy to follow, this decision has come as a reminder of the deep dysfunctionality of Iraq’s military, which remains very troubled more than a year after the start of the jihadist offensive.
Myriam Benraad