Since operations began against the self-proclaimed Islamic State in August 2014, the U.S.-led international coalition has conducted over fourteen thousand air strikes in Iraq and Syria. As of August 2016, the Islamic State had lost 47 percent of its territory in Iraq, according to the U.S. Department of State. Significant coalition gains were also made in late December 2015, when Iraqi security forces retook control of the strategic city of Ramadi, capital of the Anbar Province in western Iraq.
The Obama administration announced in April 2016 that the United States would deploy an additional two hundred troops to advise and assist Iraqi security forces advancing toward Mosul—the largest city under Islamic State rule—and another 560 troops in July 2016. In September, President Obama announced he would be sending another six hundred troops, bringing the total to five thousand. Iraqi and Kurdish forces have begun an offensive to take back Mosul from the Islamic State.
Sectarian tensions have also continued to rise. In April 2016, antigovernment Shiite protesters breached Baghdad’s Green Zone—the heavily fortified area surrounding government buildings that civilians are prohibited from entering. The protesters occupied the parliament building, demanding reform and blaming parliament members for corruption.
In June 2014, the Islamic State advanced into Iraq from Syria and took over parts of the Anbar Province. In August 2014, President Barack Obama authorized targeted air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. The United States formed an international coalition that includes more than sixty countries to counter the Islamic State.
Regional forces launched a major offensive to regain Islamic State–controlled territory, but the group continues to hold large swaths of territory and launch terror attacks region-wide. The Iraqi Army—with support from local tribes, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and the international coalition—began fighting to retake Anbar Province following the liberation of Tikrit in April 2015. The following month, however, Islamic State militants captured Ramadi.
Iran has sent perhaps as many as thirty thousand troops and resources to Shiite groups in Iraq. Qasem Soleimani—commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps’ external operations wing, the Quds Force—has also been leading the ground operations against the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. Beyond Shiite involvement from Iran and the international coalition’s efforts to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq, the Kurds, Yazidi, and other tribal Sunni groups have been fighting to regain territory.
It has been challenging to dislodge the Islamic State due to the underlying sectarian tensions in Iraq among Sunni and Shiite groups, which have intensified since the U.S. invasion in 2003 and the fall of Saddam Hussein. Some Sunni groups have been unwilling to fight the Islamic State given their grievances from de-Baathification—the policy by which the influence of the formerly ruling Ba’ath party was removed in Iraq.
The Shia, who make up more than 60 percent of the total Iraqi population, have gained more political influence in Iraq. To ease sectarian tension within the country, Shiite politician Haider al-Abadi was nominated by the Iraqi president to replace Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in August 2014. Until 2014, Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government had been increasingly removing Sunni officials and arresting hundreds of extremists in response to bomb attacks targeting Shiite neighborhoods. Since coming to office, the Prime Minister Abadi has assembled a more inclusive government, which includes Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds that participate in important roles.
The United States and the international coalition seek to loosen the Islamic State’s control and to establish a stable Iraq. There is a larger concern that the current conflict will lead to the breakup of Iraq and that sectarian tension will plague the region for years to come, possibly expanding into a proxy conflict among the various international groups. The number of persons of concern—groups to whom the United Nations has extended its protection and/or assistance services—has also increased in recent years, as nearly 4.4 million people have fled their homes since January 2014. The United Nations estimates that 1.2 million Iraqis could be uprooted in the battle for Mosul.
A Visual Exploration of the Conflict
Vera Mironova and Ekaterina Sergatskova
FEBRUARY 15, 2017
New York Times
FEBRUARY 14, 2017
MARCH 28, 2017
Iraq Coalition Casuality Count
DECEMBER 12, 2016
DECEMBER 12, 2016